Photosynthetic traits in C3 and C4 grassland species in mesocosm and field environments

TitlePhotosynthetic traits in C3 and C4 grassland species in mesocosm and field environments
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNippert, JB, Fay, PA, Knapp, AK
JournalEnvironmental and Experimental Botany
Pagination412 -420
Accession NumberKNZ001119
KeywordsA:Ci curves, C3, C4, Chlorophyll fluorescence, gas exchange, Konza, tallgrass prairie

The North American tallgrass prairie is composed of a diverse mix of C3 and C4 plant species that are subject to multiple resource limitations. C4 grasses dominate this ecosystem, purportedly due to greater photosynthetic capacity and resource-use efficiency associated with C4 photosynthesis. We tested the hypothesis that intrinsic physiological differences between C3 and C4 species are consistent with C4 grass dominance by comparing leaf gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence variables for seven C4 and C3 herbaceous species (legumes and non-legumes) in two different settings: experimental mesocosms and natural grassland sites. In the mesocosms, C4 grasses had higher photosynthetic rates, water potentials and water-use efficiency than the C3 species. These differences were absent in the field, where photosynthetic rates declined similarly among non-leguminous species. Thus, intrinsic photosynthetic advantages for C4 species measured in resource-rich mesocosms could not explain the dominance of C4 species in the field. Instead, C4 dominance in this ecosystem may depend more on the ability of the grasses to grow rapidly when resources are plentiful and to tolerate multiple limitations when resources are scarce.