Skip to Main Content

The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Biomass production in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem exposed to ambient and elevated CO2
Year: 1993
Author(s): Owensby, C. E., Coyne, P. I., Ham, J. M., Auen, L. M., Knapp, A. K.
Source Title: Ecological Applications
Source Type: Journal
pages: 644-653
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Responses to elevated CO2 have not been measured for natural grassland ecosystems. Global carbon budgets will likely be affected by changes in biomass production and allocation in the major terrestrial ecosystems. Whether ecosystems sequester or release excess carbon to the atmosphere will partly determine the extent and rate that atmospheric CO2 concentration rises. Elevated CO2 also may change plant community species composition and water status. We determined above- and belowground biomass production, plant community species composition, and measured and modeled water status of a tallgrass prairie ecosystem in Kansas exposed to ambient and twice-ambient CO2 concentrations in open-top chambers during the entire growing season from 1989 through 1991. Dominant species were Andropogon gerardii, A. scoparius, and Sorghastrum nutans (C-4 metabolism) and Poa pratensis (C-3). Aboveground biomass and leaf area were estimated by periodic sampling throughout the growing season in 1989 and 1990. In 1991, peak biomass and leaf area were estimated by an early August harvest. Relative root production among treatments was estimated using root ingrowth bags which remained in place throughout the growing season. Latent heat flux was simulated with and without water stress. Botanical composition was estimated annually. Compared to ambient CO2 levels, elevated CO2 increased production of C-4 grass species, but not of C-3 grass species. Species composition of C-4 grasses did not change, but Poa pratensis (C-3) declined, and C-3 forbs increased in the stand with elevated CO2 compared to ambient. Open-top chambers appeared to reduce latent heat flux and increase water-use efficiency similar to the elevated CO2 treatment when water stress was not severe, but under severe water stress, the chamber effect on water-use efficiency was limited. In natural ecosystems with periodic moisture stress, increased water-use efficiency under elevated CO2 apparently would have a greater impact on productivity irrespective of photosynthetic pathway.