EGU21-9410, updated on 04 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The effects of elevated CO2 and canopy position on chlorophyll concentration in mature Quercus robur.

Anna Gardner1,2, David Ellsworth3, Jeremy Pritchard1,2, and Rob Mackenzie1,4
Anna Gardner et al.
  • 1Birmingham Institute of Forest Research, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT, England.
  • 2School of BioSciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT, England.
  • 3Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, 7 Penrith NSW 2751, Australia
  • 4School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, B15 2TT, England.

The timings of phenological events play an important role in determining the annual carbon uptake in key terrestrial carbon sinks, such as mature forests. With increases in atmospheric CO2 expected to change physiological processes in plants, it is becoming increasingly important to monitor the changes in plant traits and subsequent phenological changes that may occur. Changes in photosynthetic pigments, such as chlorophyll, can be used as a proxy for physiological changes in leaves and can therefore be useful to monitor potential phenological change, such as autumnal leaf senescence. Non-destructive techniques allow for measurements of photosynthetic pigments without destructive sampling that would disturb the canopy. These methods are particularly useful in logistically difficult environments, such as high forest, or remote environments where traditional chlorophyll extractions are problematic and serve as ground-truthing for remote sensing of greenness. In the present study, we aimed to assess the effects of elevated CO2 (150 mmol mol-1 above ambient) and canopy position on chlorophyll concentrations of a common canopy-dominant species to identify potential implications on phenology. The study was conducted in a mature temperate forest situated at a Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment in the UK. Over 5,000 in-situ chlorophyll measurements were collected, across the 3rd and 4th season of CO2 fumigation, in the canopy-dominant species Quercus robur (Q. robur). Additionally, 100 leaves were destructively sampled to verify chlorophyll concentrations using traditional chlorophyll extraction techniques. The established relationship between chlorophyll absorptance readings and leaf chlorophyll content allowed robust species-specific calibration equations to be calculated. Consistent with previous work, this study observed significantly higher chlorophyll concentrations at lower positions in the canopy in both sampling years (P < 0.001). Additionally, a reduction in foliar chlorophyll concentrations (-2 to -9%) when exposed to eCO2 in both sampling years was observed, but this was only significant for the upper canopy (-7 to -9%, P < 0.05). This study found a marginally significant effect of CO2 treatment on reducing the effective season length, with larger eCO2-induced reductions in chlorophyll occurred through autumn. Overall, the research highlights a simple non-invasive method for monitoring changes in leaf traits of mature trees under eCO2. The results suggest that leaves may be able to reallocate their resources away from light-harvesting apparatus in response to eCO2, particularly in the upper canopy. Furthermore, the findings suggest direct consequences of rising atmospheric CO2 to potential alterations of phenological events, such as leaf senescence, that may have implications for forest productivity and adaptation in a future high CO2 world. Additionally, the research has shown the need to monitor potential changes in resource allocation to photosynthetic apparatus across the season as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise. The information obtained in this study can be used to increase accuracy in the modelling of climate-carbon scenarios.

How to cite: Gardner, A., Ellsworth, D., Pritchard, J., and Mackenzie, R.: The effects of elevated CO2 and canopy position on chlorophyll concentration in mature Quercus robur., EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9410,, 2021.


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