Feedback from plant species change amplifies CO2 enhancement of grassland productivity
Dynamic global vegetation models simulate feedbacks of vegetation change on ecosystem processes, but direct, experimental evidence for feedbacks that result from atmospheric CO2 enrichment is rare. We hypothesized that feedbacks from species change would amplify the initial CO2 stimulation of aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) of tallgrass prairie communities. Communities of perennial forb and C4 grass species were grown for 5 years along a field CO2 gradient (250–500 μL L−1) in central Texas USA on each of three soil types, including upland and lowland clay soils and a sandy soil. CO2 enrichment increased community ANPP by 0–117% among years and soils and increased the contribution of the tallgrass species Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass) to community ANPP on each of the three soil types. CO2-induced changes in ANPP and Sorghastrum abundance were linked. The slope of ANPP-CO2 regressions increased between initial and final years on the two clay soils because of a positive feedback from the increase in Sorghastrum fraction. This feedback accounted for 30–60% of the CO2-mediated increase in ANPP on the upland and lowland clay soils during the final 3 years and 1 year of the experiment, respectively. By contrast, species change had little influence on the ANPP-CO2 response on the sandy soil, possibly because Sorghastrum increased largely at the expense of a functionally similar C4 grass species. By favoring a mesic C4 tall grass, CO2 enrichment approximately doubled the initial enhancement of community ANPP on two clay soils. The CO2-stimulation of grassland productivity may be significantly underestimated if feedbacks from plant community change are not considered.