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Elevated atmospheric CO2increases water availability in a water-limited grassland ecosystem

  • Author(s): Fredeen, AL
  • Randerson, JT
  • Holbrook, NM
  • Field, CB
  • et al.

Californian annual grassland on sandstone (moderately fertile) and serpentine (very infertile) soils at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, Stanford, California, were exposed to ambient or elevated (ambient + 36 Pa CO2) atmospheric CO2in open-top chambers since December 1991. We measured ecosystem evapotranspiration with open gas-exchange systems, and sell moisture with time-domain reflectometry (TDR) over 0-15 cm (serpentine) and 0-30 cm (sandstone) depths, at times of peak above ground physiological activity. Evapotranspiration decreased by 12 to 63 percent under elevated CO2in three consecutive years in the sandstone ecosystem (p = 0.053, p = 0.162, p = 0.082 in 1992, 1993, and 1994, respectively). In correspondence with decreased evapotranspiration, late-season sell moisture reserves in the sandstone were extended temporally by 10 ± 3 days in 1993 and by 28 ± 11 days in 1994. The effect of elevated CO2on soil moisture was greater in the drier spring of 1994 (419 mm annual rainfall) than in 1993 (905 mm annual rainfall). In the serpentine ecosystem, evapotranspiration and soil moisture reserves were not clearly affected by elevated CO2. Soil water may be conserved in drought-affected ecosystems exposed to elevated CO2, hut the amount of conservation appears to depend on the relative importance of transpiration and soil evaporation in controlling water flux.

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