UPTON, NY - A detailed analysis of soil samples taken from a forest ecosystem with artificially elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) reveals distinct changes in the mix of microorganisms living in the soil below trembling aspen. These changes could increase the availability of essential soil nutrients, thereby supporting increased plant growth and the plants' ability to "lock up," or sequester, excess carbon from the atmosphere. The research will be published online this week in the journal Environmental Microbiology.
"These changes in soil biota are evidence for altered interactions between trembling aspen trees and the microorganisms in the surrounding soil," says Daniel (Niels) van der Lelie, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, who led the research. "This supports the idea that greater plant detritus production under elevated CO2 has altered microbial community composition in the soil. Understanding the effect these microbial changes have on ecosystem function, especially via effects on the cycling of essential elements, will be important for evaluating the potential of forests to act as a natural carbon sink in mitigating the effects of rising CO2."
Atmospheric CO2, the most abundant "greenhouse gas," has been increasing since the start of the industrial age, and is one of the main contributing factors associated with climate change. Since plants take in CO2 and convert it to biomass during photosynthesis, much research has focused on the potential of forests to sequester excess carbon and offset the rise in CO2.
Various studies have demonstrated increased plant growth under elevated CO2, but there is no consensus on many of the secondary effects associated with these plant responses. The goal of this study was to investigate the composition and role of microbial communities, which help to
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DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory