Branch growth and gas exchange in 13-year-old loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) trees in response to elevated carbon dioxide concentration and fertilization
Summary We used whole-tree, open-top chambers to expose 13-year-old loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) trees, growing in soil with high or low nutrient availability, to either ambient or elevated (ambient + 200 µmol mol-1 ) carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) for 28 months. Branch growth and morphology, foliar chemistry and gas exchange characteristics were measured periodically in the upper, middle and lower crown during the 2 years of exposure. Fertilization and elevated [CO2] increased branch leaf area by 38 and 13%, respectively, and the combined effects were additive. Fertilization and elevated [CO2] differentially altered needle lengths, number of fascicles and flush length such that flush density (leaf area/flush length) increased with improved nutrition but decreased in response to elevated [CO2]. These results suggest that changes in nitrogen availability and atmospheric [CO2] may alter canopy structure, resulting in greater foliage retention and deeper crowns in loblolly pine forests. Fertilization increased foliar nitrogen concentration (NM), but had no consistent effect on foliar leaf mass (WA) or light-saturated net photosynthesis (Asat). However, the correlation between Asat and leaf nitrogen per unit area (NA = WANM) ranged from strong to weak depending on the time of year, possibly reflecting seasonal shifts in the form and pools of leaf nitrogen. Elevated [CO2] had no effect on WA, NM or NA, but increased Asat on average by 82%. Elevated [CO2] also increased photosynthetic quantum efficiency and lowered the light compensation point, but had no effect on the photosynthetic response to intercellular [CO2], hence there was no acclimation to elevated [CO2]. Daily photosynthetic photon flux density at the upper, middle and lower canopy position was 60, 54 and 33%, respectively, of full sun incident to the top of the canopy. Despite the relatively high light penetration, WA, NA, Asat and Rd decreased with crown depth. Although growth enhancement in response to elevated [CO2] was dependent on fertilization, [CO2] by fertilization interactions and treatment by canopy position interactions generally had little effect on the physiological parameters measured.