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Free Content Biodiversity and CO2: Global Change is Under Way

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In this article our current understanding of CO2 effects on complex vegetation is outlined and first results of the CO2 enrichment experiments conducted as part of the Biodiversity Module of the Swiss Priority Programme Environment are discussed.

It is known for two centuries that plants need CO2 for photosynthesis. Elevated concentrations of CO2 were found to stimulate growth, and thus CO2 fertilization became a standard tool in greenhouse horticulture.

Meanwhile it became clear that this stimulating effect of CO2 on plant growth depends on the availability of other resources like water, nitrogen and phosphate, which are usually very abundant in agro-systems but limited in natural ecosystems. However, even when resources are short some plants (the “winners”) may become more efficient competitors for these resources than others (the “losers”), causing global CO2 enrichment to become a biodiversity issue.

While 1 per cent of the global biomass is growing under fertile agricultural conditions, more than 95 per cent of the global vegetation produces biomass without any artificial addition of resources. Hence, understanding CO2 effects on biodiversity requires experiments conducted in diverse, low-fertility systems, a model for which are calcareous grasslands. First results indicate increased carbon uptake by plants during the day but no change in biomass.

In addition, tissue quality changes and species-specific responses were observed which were not predicted by any current theory.

These results indicate that predictions of the future development of complex plant assemblages can not be made from data obtained in simplified fertile systems but need to consider the multitude of interactions between organisms as they occur in the field.

With more than 70 plant species per 100 m2 this precious grassland system can serve as a model for other highly diverse natural ecosystems.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 1995

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

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    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

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