J Integr Plant Biol. ›› 2008, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (11): 1365-1374.DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7909.2008.00754.x

Special Issue: Ecology and Global Changes

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Why are nitrogen concentrations in plant tissues lower under elevated CO2? a critical examination of the hypotheses

Daniel R. Taub and Xianzhong Wang   

  • Received:2008-02-25 Accepted:2008-06-11 Published:2008-11-11

Abstract: Plants grown under elevated atmospheric [CO2] typically have decreased tissue concentrations of N compared with plants grown under current ambient [CO2]. The physiological mechanisms responsible for this phenomenon have not been definitely established, although a considerable number of hypotheses have been advanced to account for it. In this review we discuss and critically evaluate these hypotheses. One contributing factor to the decreases in tissue N concentrations clearly is dilution of N by increased photosynthetic assimilation of C. In addition, studies on intact plants show strong evidence for a general decrease in the specific uptake rates (uptake per unit mass or length of root) of N by roots under elevated CO2, This decreased root uptake appears likely to be the result both of decreased N demand by shoots and of decreased ability of the soil-root system to supply N. The best-supported mechanism for decreased N supply is a decrease in transpiration-driven mass flow of N in soils due to decreased stomatal conductance at elevated CO2, although some evidence suggests that altered root system architecture may also play a role. There is also limited evidence suggesting that under elevated CO2, plants may exhibit increased rates of N loss through volatilization and/or root exudation, further contributing to lowering tissue N concentrations.

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