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Open Access Publications from the University of California

As carbon dioxide rises, food quality will decline without careful nitrogen management

  • Author(s): Bloom, Arnold J
  • et al.

Rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could dramatically influence the performance of crops, but experimental results to date have been highly variable. For example, when C3 plants are grown under carbon dioxide enrichment, productivity increases dramatically at first. But over time, organic nitrogen in the plants decreases and productivity diminishes in soils where nitrate is an important source of this nutrient. We have discovered a phenomenon that provides a relatively simple explanation for the latter responses: in C3 plants, elevated carbon dioxide concentrations inhibit photorespiration, which in turn inhibits shoot nitrate assimilation. Agriculture would benefit from the careful management of nitrogen fertilizers, particularly those that are ammonium based.

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