Response to elevated CO2 from a natural spring in a C4-dominated grassland depends on seasonal phenology
A South African C4-dominated grassland was exposed to twice-ambient atmospheric CO2 concentration using gas emitted by a natural CO2 spring and distributed over a 7m × 7m plot. A similar control plot was established 20m away at near-ambient CO2 concentrations. Photosynthetic CO2 response curves were performed on three C4 and one C3 grass species under both treatments, in spring (post-fire), mid-summer and autumn. Photosynthetic efficiency of the post-fire dominants, Alloteropsis semialata subsp. eckloniana (C3) and Andropogon appendiculatus (C4) was significantly enhanced in high CO2 only during the early season, when photosynthetic capacity was high. Thereafter, photosynthetic capacity decreased with advancing season in both species, and positive responses to high CO2 were lost or reduced. In the mid- to late-season dominant Themeda triandra (C4), photosynthetic capacity was maintained in elevated CO2 during the mid- to late-season, while decreasing in ambient CO2 relative to high CO2. Eragrostis racemosa (C4), a slow grower, showed no significant responses to high CO2 during the late season. CO2-responsiveness in the field generally followed the seasonal phenologies of each species, being greatest during the most active growth period.