Influence of increased atmospheric CO2 concentration on quality of plant material and litter decomposition

Coûteaux MM, Kurz C, Bottner P, Raschi A
Tree Physiology, Volume 19, Issue 4-5, 1 April 1999, Pages 301–311,

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Nitrogen (N) and lignin concentrations in plant tissues and litter of plants grown in greenhouses or open-top chambers in elevated atmospheric CO2concentration were compared with those of plants grown in ambient air in short-term studies. We also compared the N concentration of plant material of Quercus ilex L. and Q. pubescens Willd. growing in the vicinity of natural CO2-springs with that of the same species growing at a control site. In the short-term studies, elevated CO2 caused significant decreases in tissue N concentration and the extent of the decrease varied with species. Nitrogen amendment of the soil lessened the CO2-enrichment effect. Lignin concentration was modified by elevated CO2 and the effect was species specific, but no general positive or negative trend was evident. A comparison of trees growing under natural conditions near a natural CO2-spring and at a control site revealed no site differences in N concentration of the plant material. A comparison of published results on decomposition rates of litter produced in elevated atmospheric CO2 and in ambient air indicated that CO2 enrichment can cause both enhancements and decreases of carbon mineralization. We conclude that (1) long-term responses to elevated CO2 could differ from the results obtained from short-term studies and that (2) biodiversity could be an important factor altering the sign of the feedback on atmospheric CO2 concentration. We also discuss the implications of our finding of a long-term, inhibitory effect of the initial N concentration of litter on the decomposition rate of litter and its consequence on ecosystem feedback.