Photosynthesis, productivity, and yield of maize are not affected by open-air elevation of CO2 concentration in the absence of drought

Andrew D.B. Leakey, Martin Uribelarreà, Elizabeth A. Ainsworth, Shawna L. Naidu, Alistair Rogers, Donald R. Ort, Stephen P. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While increasing temperatures and altered soil moisture arising from climate change in the next 50 years are projected to decrease yield of food crops, elevated CO2 concentration ([CO2]) is predicted to enhance yield and offset these detrimental factors. However, C4 photosynthesis is usually saturated at current [CO2] and theoretically should not be stimulated under elevated [CO2]. Nevertheless, some controlled environment studies have reported direct stimulation of C4 photosynthesis and productivity as well as physiological acclimation, under elevated [CO2]. To test if these effects occur in the open air and within the Corn Belt, maize (Zea mays) was grown in ambient [CO2] (376 μmol-1) and elevated [CO2] (550 μmol-1) using Free-Air Concentration Enrichment technology. The 2004 season had ideal growing conditions in which the crop did not experience water stress. In the absence of water stress, growth at elevated [CO2] did not stimulate photosynthesis, biomass, or yield. Nor was there any CO, effect on the activity of key photosynthetic enzymes, or metabolic markers of carbon and nitrogen status. Stomatal conductance was lower (-34%) and soil moisture was higher (up to 31%), consistent with reduced crop water use. The results provide unique field evidence that photosynthesis and production of maize may be unaffected by rising [CO2] in the absence of drought. This suggests that rising [CO2] may not provide the full dividend to North American maize production anticipated in projections of future global food supply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-790
Number of pages12
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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