It has been suggested that part of the so-called “missing sink” of carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere by anthropogenic activities, that is the imbalance between estimated anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and oceanic uptake, may be stored in the vegetation in midlatitudes. Precise mechanisms of abstraction of additional carbon dioxide by vegetation, also known as the “fertilization effect”, are poorly understood. Stable carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios of cellulose extracted from annual growth rings (covering the time period 1980–1993) in an oak tree from Kalamazoo, SW Michigan provide a basis to investigate at a physiological level how the fertilization effect may operate. The carbon isotope ratios show that the intercellular concentration of carbon dioxide increased due to an increase in stomatal opening. Although increased intercellular concentration of carbon dioxide translated to increased Water Use Efficiency and assimilation rates, it also resulted in increased transpiration rate as shown by higher D/H of the fixed carbon. The two-fold significance of the isotope data are: first, they provide the first field evidence based on isotope studies for excess CO2 induced biomass production and second, they suggest that this mechanism is likely to operate only in limited environments. Vegetation in regions where moisture availability is not restricted so that there can be a gain in water use efficiency despite increased leaf evaporation are best suited to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere.
Volume 129, 2020
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