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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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.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03268
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