The phenomenon of woody plant thickening in grasslands has been observed globally and is likely to have widespread ecological consequences. It has been proposed that woody plant thickening is driven in part by rising atmospheric [CO2] enhancing the resprouting ability of woody plants relative to grasses so they respond more strongly after disturbances such as herbivory and fire. The aim of this study was to examine the CO2 effect on the resprouting ability of 16 co-occurring temperate woody plant and grass species (eight species from each growth form). Plants were grown in a controlled glasshouse experiment under ambient (400 ppm) and elevated [CO2] (600 ppm) for 14 weeks after which their resprouting ability was measured. Root non-structural carbohydrate (NSC mass ) and nitrogen (N mass ) storage was used as proxies to measure the resprouting ability of woody plants while for the grasses it was measured directly. We found that both the woody plants (22% on average; P = 0.003) and grasses (20% on average; P = 0.003) produced more biomass under elevated [CO 2]. Despite the woody plants not allocating additional carbon to belowground storage under elevated [CO2], they had significantly greater root NSC mass (23% on average; P = 0.007) due to increased root biomass production (8% on average; P = 0.007). In contrast, root N mass of the woody plants did not differ between CO2 treatments (P = 0.373). Surprisingly, the resprouting ability of the grasses did not significantly differ between the CO2 treatments (P = 0.067). These results provide evidence that the differing resprouting response of woody plants and grasses under elevated [CO 2 ] may be contributing to woody plant encroachment of grasslands worldwide.
- climate change
- shrub encroachment