Photosynthetic responses to CO2 enrichment of four hardwood species in a forest understory

Evan H. DeLucia, Richard B. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We compared the CO2- and light-dependence of photosynthesis of four tree species (Acer rubrum, Carya glabra, Cercis canadensis, Liquidambar styraciflua) growing in the understory of a loblolly pine plantation under ambient or ambient plus 200 μl l-1 CO2. Naturally-established saplings were fumigated with a free-air CO2 enrichment system. Light-saturated photosynthetic rates were 159-190% greater for Ce. canadensis saplings grown and measured under elevated CO2. This species had the greatest CO2 stimulation of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic rates were only 59% greater for A. rubrum saplings under CO2 enrichment and Ca. glabra and L. styraciflua had intermediate responses. Elevated CO2 stimulated light-saturated photosynthesis more than the apparent quantum yield. The maximum rate of carboxylation of ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase, estimated from gas-exchange measurements, was not consistently affected by growth in elevated CO2. However, the maximum electron transport rate estimated from gas-exchange measurements and from chlorophyll fluorescence, when averaged across species and dates, was approximately 10% higher for saplings in elevated CO2. The proportionately greater stimulation of light-saturated photosynthesis than the apparent quantum yield and elevated rates of maximum electron transport suggests that saplings growing under elevated CO2 make more efficient use of sunflecks. The stimulation of light-saturated photosynthesis by CO2 did not appear to correlate with shade-tolerance ranking of the individual species. However, the species with the greatest enhancement of photosynthesis, Ce. canadensis and L. styraciflua, also invested the greatest proportion of soluble protein in Rubisco. Environmental and endogenous factors affecting N partitioning may partially explain interspecific variation in the photosynthetic response to elevated CO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


  • Acclimation
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • Climate change
  • Photosynthesis
  • Shade tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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