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Evidence of a feedback mechanism limiting plant response to elevated carbon dioxide


IN short-term experiments under productive laboratory conditions, native herbaceous plants differ widely in their potential to achieve higher yields at elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide1–8. The most responsive species appear to be large fast-growing perennials of recently disturbed fertile soils7,8. These types of plants are currently increasing in abundance9 but it is not known whether this is an effect of rising carbon dioxide or is due to other factors. Doubts concerning the potential of natural vegetation for sustained response to rising carbon dioxide have arisen from experiments on infertile soils, where the stimulus to growth was curtailed by mineral nutrient limitations2,3,10. Here we present evidence that mineral nutrient constraints on the fertilizer effect of elevated carbon dioxide can also occur on fertile soil and in the earliest stages of secondary succession. Our data indicate that there may be a feedback mechanism in which elevated carbon dioxide causes an increase in substrate release into the rhizosphere by non-mycorrhizal plants, leading to mineral nutrient sequestration by the expanded microflora and a consequent nutritional limitation on plant growth.

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Díaz, S., Grime, J., Harris, J. et al. Evidence of a feedback mechanism limiting plant response to elevated carbon dioxide. Nature 364, 616–617 (1993).

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