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Two years of carbon dioxide enrichment on the Shortgrass Steppe of Colorado


probably 1998


Ojima, D. S., author
Parton, W. J., author
Milchunas, D. G., author
Mosier, A. R., author
LeCain, D. R., author
Morgan, J. A., author
SGS-LTER, Colorado State University, publisher

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This study assessed how doubling the CO2 concentration over present levels affects the growth and physiology of shortgrass steppe vegetation in eastern Colorado. In March, 1997, six open-top chambers (OTCs) were installed on native shortgrass steppe in NE Colorado, USA. Three grass species make up about 88% of the above-ground biomass of this ecosystem; Bouteloua gracilis (C4), Pascopyrum smithii (C3) and Stipa comata (C3). More than 20 other grass and forb species also occur here. CO2 was injected into three OTCs to raise the concentration to 720 ppm, approximately twice that in the three ambient chambers. Three non-chambered plots were established to evaluate chamber effects. The air temperature in the chambers averaged 2° C warmer than outside. During 1997 and 1998 significant chamber and CO2 effects were detected. Averaging over the two years, above-ground production in the ambient chambers was 22% greater than that in unchambered plots, probably due to warmer spring temperatures in the chambers. Production under elevated CO2 averaged 35% greater than that in ambient OTCs. Significant growth increases occurred for both C3 and C4 grasses and forbs in 1998. These CO2 -induced growth increases were primarily due to improved water status. Soil water content was often higher in elevated CO2 chambers. Leaf water potentials were generally higher in plants grown at elevated CO2 compared to ambient chambers. Leaf intercellular CO2 photosynthesis response curves indicated neither P. smithii nor B. gracilis leaves were saturated with CO2 at 360 ppm. Photosynthetic capacity of both species was reduced in plants grown at elevated CO2, although this response was much stronger in the the C3 species, P. smithii. Results suggest that future CO2 enrichment will lead to growth enhancements in both C3 and C4 grasses of the shortgrass steppe.


The SGS-LTER research site was established in 1980 by researchers at Colorado State University as part of a network of long-term research sites within the US LTER Network, supported by the National Science Foundation. Scientists within the Natural Resource Ecology Lab, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Biology Department at CSU, California State Fullerton, USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming, among others, have contributed to our understanding of the structure and functions of the shortgrass steppe and other diverse ecosystems across the network while maintaining a common mission and sharing expertise, data and infrastructure.
Colorado State University. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Colorado State University. Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship; Colorado State University. Department of Soil and Crop Sciences; Colorado State University. Department of Biology; California State University, Fullerton; United States. Agricultural Research Service; University of Northern Colorado.

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long term ecological research
Central Plains Experimental Range
Pawnee National Grassland
grassland ecology
shortgrass steppe


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