Higher carbon dioxide may give pines competitive edge

August 3, 2009,
Loblolly trees growing under elevated carbon dioxide levels emitted from towers at Duke Forest's FACE site | Chris Hildreth

(PhysOrg.com) -- Pine trees grown for 12 years in air one-and-a-half times richer in carbon dioxide than today's levels produced twice as many seeds of at least as good a quality as those growing under normal conditions, a Duke University-led research team reported Monday (Aug. 3) at a national ecology conference.

Carbon dioxide readings that high are expected everywhere by mid-century. The findings suggest some woody tree species could, in the future, out-compete grasses and other herbaceous plants that scientists had previously found can also produce more under high-CO2, but of inferior quality.

"Even if both groups were producing twice as many seeds, if the trees are producing high-quality seeds and the herbaceous species aren't, then competitively you can get a shift," said Danielle Way, a Duke post-doctoral researcher.

Way is scheduled to present the results at a poster session 5 p.m. Aug. 3 during the Ecological Society of America's 2009 annual meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also first author of a report on the study scheduled for publication in the research journal Global Change Biology.

Way and her co-researchers collected, counted and analyzed seeds produced at the Duke Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) site in Duke Forest, near the university's campus. There, growing parcels of loblolly pine trees have been receiving elevated amounts of CO2 around the clock since 1997 in a Department of Energy-funded project designed to simulate natural growing conditions.

Their analysis found the high-CO2 loblolly seeds were similar in , germination and growth potential to seeds from trees growing under present-day CO2 concentrations. "If anything, they actually seem to be slightly better seeds rather than more seeds of poorer quality," Way said.

"The notion here is that if the trees are producing more high-quality seeds at high CO2 compared to grasses and herbs, then the trees may be at an advantage," added study participant Robert Jackson. Jackson is Way's advisor at Duke, where he is a biology professor, as well as professor of global environmental change at the university's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The ultimate competitive outcome will depend on how other comparatively respond to high-CO2, said James Clark, another Duke biology professor and Nicholas School professor of the environment who also participated in the study. "We don't know that yet, because we only have estimates for loblolly pines," Clark said.

Source: Duke University (news : web)

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3 / 5 (8) Aug 03, 2009

Despite all the scare mongering about CO2-induced global warming, CO2 is in fact gaseous plant food in the natural cycle of carbon-based life life.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
3 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
Of interest to me is that many years ago I thought that, perhaps, higher CO2 concentrations might prove beneficial to gymnosperms and so-called "lower" plants. This study seems to support that idea. Next step, for me, would be to see if cycads and ferns grow more rapidly and robustly under high CO2 than under today's conditions. If so, perhaps signficantly higher atmospheric CO2 could presage a return to carboniferous-type forests over time.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2009
LariAnn: That's an interesting idea...Nasty as it would be for, um, our current ecosystems, it'd be amazing if the far future held something similar to our distant past. I'd be kinda surprised if cycads could rebound from their current battered state to become common once more, but stranger things have happened.
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
The encroachment of evergreens into useable land are already a huge problem for Great Plains farmers and ranchers, I know, and probably elsewhere too.
4 / 5 (3) Aug 04, 2009
It makes sense for evergreens to encroach on grasslands even without a CO2 increase. There used to be more grassfires and THOSE kill trees.

At least that is believed to be what is happening in Yosemite where the meadows are shrinking. In the past the Amerinds living there deliberately set fires and this seems to have expanded the grassy meadows. Trees kill grass with leaves and grass kills trees with fire. Its not just animals that compete.

not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
Actually Ethel, in the case of most pines, they use fires to reproduce. The pine cone expands under heating and the pine pitch facilitates the process.

Grass fires would in effect help open the cone and spread the seeds, while enriching the ground below for the new seedlings.

What I would be more concerned about is the fact that we're seeing a "tree infestation" in the plains states, where prior, there were NO trees.
5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2009
Actually Ethel, in the case of most pines, they use fires to reproduce

Redwoods certainly do. Nevertheless trees are encroaching the meadows at Yosemite in the valley. Unless I am remembering wrong.

It turns out that in Yosemite the trees in question are ponderosa pines.


The link may not work so here is the Google search I used. This was the top item.

yosemite meadows trees burn

This is not to say that you aren't generally correct on this.

Checking for more with:

great plains evergreens encroachment

And yes stuff shows up about junipers. It looks like several, perhaps all, of the links are for the same study.

Different conditions different results. Yosemite is pretty unique and things that occur there shouldn't be extrapolated to the plain states.

not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
The biggest problem with the article is thaty they only tested pines, not other types of trees.

I understand the scope had to remain small to get better results, but to insinuate that this gives Pines an advantage, when elevated CO2 is beneficial to most all species of plants, is surprising to see in a scientific context. More reseach needs to be done to confirm anything, nevertheless, very interesting finding.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2009
I wouldn't say there is no other data on other types of trees. Check out the DOE funded FACE studies.

The results of the ORNL study was interesting. Not certain if this has made peer review yet, but check out http://face.ornl....dex.html , The results are interesting.
not rated yet Aug 04, 2009
There used to be more grassfires and THOSE kill trees.

It is attributed mostly to the strict control of wild fires (followed by past Department of Roads actions of planting "wind break" lines). I don't know if I really had a point with my OP... wasn't trying to suggest it was do to CO2, the opposite if anything.

As a requirement to hunting on a family friends land he jokingly said this year we had to take 10 pines for every turkey we got.

Similar to the beetle kill in the Rockies, the encroaching pines may have some viability as a biomass energy source?
not rated yet Aug 05, 2009
Similar to the beetle kill in the Rockies, the encroaching pines may have some viability as a biomass energy source?
You can actually fire a coal plant entirely with tree products, with near zero modification, (depending on age of the plant).
1 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2009

What I would be more concerned about is the fact that we're seeing a "tree infestation" in the plains states, where prior, there were NO trees.

Actually, a number of years ago I read an archaeology report that indicated that there were originally many, many trees in the Great Plains region before tribes of Native Americans burned them all down to make room for Buffalo habitat.

I do not recall the name of the report or the year I read it but the last time I looked for it much of the information had been suppressed as a result of lawsuits and so forth.

Perhaps we all should try to locate the information. I would like to find it at any rate. Next time I am getting a photocopy of it if I find it again!

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