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Abrupt rise in atmospheric CO2 overestimates community response in a model plant–soil system


Attempts to understand the ecological effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, [CO2], usually involve exposing today's ecosystems to expected future [CO2] levels1,2. However, a major assumption of these approaches has not been tested—that exposing ecosystems to a single-step increase in [CO2] will yield similar responses to those of a gradual increase over several decades3. We tested this assumption on a mycorrhizal fungal community over a period of six years. [CO2] was either increased abruptly, as is typical of most [CO2] experiments, or more gradually over 21 generations. The two approaches resulted in different structural and functional community responses to increased [CO2]. Some fungi were sensitive to the carbon pulse of the abrupt [CO2] treatment. This resulted in an immediate decline in fungal species richness and a significant change in mycorrhizal functioning. The magnitude of changes in fungal diversity and functioning in response to gradually increasing [CO2] was smaller, and not significantly different to those with ambient [CO2]. Our results suggest that studies may overestimate some community responses to increasing [CO2] because biota may be sensitive to ecosystem changes that occur as a result of abrupt increases.

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Figure 1: The effect of atmospheric [CO2] on AMF species richness.
Figure 2: The effect of atmospheric [CO2] on mycorrhizal dependency of B. inermis.


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We thank T. Crouch, T. Denich, P. Jermaine, P. John, B. Kerin, G. Lefebre, J. McCune, P. Moutoglis, J. Neville, V. Ortega, Y. Sipos-Randor, F. Steele, V. Turner, D. Wollad, E. Young and V. Yu for technical assistance. Financial support for this project was provided by a grant to J.N.K. by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, to M.F.A. by the US Department of Energy, and to M.C.R. by the US National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to John N. Klironomos.

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Klironomos, J., Allen, M., Rillig, M. et al. Abrupt rise in atmospheric CO2 overestimates community response in a model plant–soil system. Nature 433, 621–624 (2005).

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