Elevated atmospheric CO2 (eCO2) often increases photosynthetic CO2 assimilation (A) in field studies of temperate tree species. However, there is evidence that A may decline through time due to biochemical and morphological acclimation, and environmental constraints. Indeed, at the free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) study in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, A was increased in 12-year-old sweetgum trees following 2 years of ~40 % enhancement of CO2. A was re-assessed a decade later to determine if the initial enhancement of photosynthesis by eCO2 was sustained through time. Measurements were conducted at prevailing CO2 and temperature on detached, re-hydrated branches using a portable gas exchange system. Photosynthetic CO2 response curves (A versus the CO2 concentration in the intercellular air space (Ci); or A-Ci curves) were contrasted with earlier measurements using leaf photosynthesis model equations. Relationships between light-saturated photosynthesis (Asat), maximum electron transport rate (Jmax), maximum Rubisco activity (Vcmax), chlorophyll content and foliar nitrogen (N)were assessed. In 1999, Asat for eCO2 treatmentswas 15.4+0.8 μmol m-2 s-1, 22 %higher than aCO2 treatments (P < 0.01). By 2009, Asat declined to < 50 %of 1999 values, and there was no longer a significant effect of eCO2 (Asat = 6.9 or 5.7+0.7 μmol m-2 s-1 for eCO2 or aCO2, respectively). In 1999, there was no treatment effect on area-based foliar N; however, by 2008, N content in eCO2 foliage was 17 % less than that in aCO2 foliage. Photosynthetic N-use efficiency (Asat: N) was greater in eCO2 in 1999 resulting in greater Asat despite similar N content, but the enhanced efficiency in eCO2 trees was lost as foliar N declined to sub-optimal levels. There was no treatment difference in the declining linear relationships between Jmax or Vcmax with declining N, or in the ratio of Jmax: Vcmax through time. Results suggest that the initial enhancement of photosynthesis to elevated CO2 will not be sustained through time if N becomes limited.
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- free-air CO2 enrichment
- nitrogen limitation