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The effects of elevated CO2 on nutrient distribution in a fire-adapted shrub oak forest

Johnson, D.W., Hungate, B.A., Dijkstra, P., Hymus, G., Hinkle, C.R., Stiling, P., and Drake, B.J. 2003. Ecological Applications 13: 1388-1399


Elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) caused greater accumulation of carbon (C) and nutrients in both vegetation and O horizons over a 5-yr sampling period in a scrub oak ecosystem in Florida. Elevated CO2 had no effect on any measured soil property except extractable phosphorus (P), which was lower with elevated CO2 after five years. Anion and cation exchange membranes showed lower available nitrogen (N) and zinc (Zn) with elevated CO2. Soils in both elevated and ambient CO2 showed decreases in total C, N, sulfur (S), and cation exchange capacity, and increases in base saturation, exchangeable Ca2 , and Mg2 over the 5-yr sampling period. We hypothesize that these soil changes were a delayed response to prescribed fire, which was applied to the site just before the initiation of the experiment. In the ambient CO2 treatment, the increases in vegetation and O horizon C, N, and S were offset by the losses of soil total C, N, and S, resulting in no statistically significant net changes in ecosystem C, N, or S over time. In the elevated CO2 treatment, the increases in vegetation and O horizon C content outweighed the losses in soil C, resulting in a statistically significant net increase in ecosystem C content. Nitrogen and S contents showed no statistically significant change over time in the elevated CO2 treatment, however. Comparisons of vegetation contents and soil pools of potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) suggest that a substantial proportion of these nutrients were taken up from either groundwater or deep soil horizons. This study demonstrates that changes in ecosystem C sequestration due elevated CO2 or any other factor cannot be accurately assessed in the absence of data on changes in soils.

Key Words

CO2, elevated, fire, nutrients, O horizon, scrub oak, Florida, soils, uptake.