Drought × CO2 interactions in trees: a test of the low-intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci) mechanism

Jeff W.G. Kelly, Remko A. Duursma, Brian J. Atwell, David T. Tissue, Belinda E. Medlyn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Models of tree responses to climate typically project that elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration (eCa) will reduce drought impacts on forests. We tested one of the mechanisms underlying this interaction, the 'low Ci effect', in which stomatal closure in drought conditions reduces the intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci), resulting in a larger relative enhancement of photosynthesis with eCa, and, consequently, a larger relative biomass response. We grew two Eucalyptus species of contrasting drought tolerance at ambient and elevated Ca for 6-9 months in large pots maintained at 50% (drought) and 100% field capacity. Droughted plants did not have significantly lower Ci than well-watered plants, which we attributed to long-term changes in leaf area. Hence, there should not have been an interaction between eCa and water availability on biomass, and we did not detect one. The xeric species did have higher Ci than the mesic species, indicating lower water-use efficiency, but both species exhibited similar responses of photosynthesis and biomass to eCa, owing to compensatory differences in the photosynthetic response to Ci. Our results demonstrate that long-term acclimation to drought, and coordination among species traits may be important for predicting plant responses to eCa under low water availability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1600-1612
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • acclimation
  • drought
  • elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration
  • Eucalyptus pilularis
  • Eucalyptus populnea
  • plant traits


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