The University of Arizona

Viewpoint: atmospheric CO2, soil water, and shrub/grass ratios on rangelands.

H.W. Polley, H.S. Mayeux, H.B. Johnson, C.R. Tischler


The abundance of woody plants on grasslands and savannas often is controlled by the availability of water and its location in soil. Water availability to plants is limited by precipitation, but the distribution of soil water and period over which it is available in these ecosystems are influenced by the transpiration rates of grasses. We discuss implications of recent and projected increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration for transpiration, soil water availability, and the balance of grasses and shrubs. An increase in CO2 concentration often reduces potential transpiration/leaf area by reducing stomatal conductance. On grasslands where effects of stomatal closure on transpiration are not negated by an increase in leaf temperature and leaf area, rising CO2 concentration should slow the depletion of soil water by grasses and potentially favor shrubs and other species that might otherwise succumb to water stress. Predicted effects of CO2 are supported by results from CO2-enrichment studies in the field and are compatible with recent models of interactions between resource levels and vegetation pattern and structure.


prediction;plant ecology;water availability;soil water balance;carbon dioxide;atmosphere;greenhouse effect;stomata;c-4 grasses;rain;transpiration;shrubs;rangelands;literature reviews;grasses;plant height

Full Text: