J Plant Ecol ›› 2021, Vol. 14 ›› Issue (3): 478-490 .DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtab005

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Understorey plant community assemblage of Australian Eucalyptus woodlands under elevated CO2 is modulated by water and phosphorus availability

Raúl Ochoa-Hueso1,2,*, Rani Carroll1, Juan Piñeiro1,3 and Sally A. Power1   

  1. 1 Ecosystem Function and Integration Theme, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, New South Wales 2751, Australia, 2 Department of Biology, IVAGRO, University of Cádiz, Campus de Excelencia Internacional Agroalimentario (CeiA3), Campus del Rio San Pedro, 11510 Puerto Real, Cádiz, Spain, 3 Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

    Corresponding author. E-mail: rochoahueso@gmail.com
  • Received:2020-09-04 Revised:2020-11-30 Accepted:2020-12-27 Online:2021-01-16 Published:2021-06-01



Given the key functional role of understorey plant communities and the substantial extent of forest cover at the global scale, investigating understorey community responses to elevated CO2 (eCO2) concentrations, and the role of soil resources in these responses, is important for understanding the ecosystem-level consequences of rising CO2 concentrations for forest ecosystems. Here, we evaluated how experimentally manipulating the availabilities of the two most limiting resources in an extremely phosphorus-limited eucalypt woodland in eastern Australia (i.e. water and phosphorus) can modulate the response of the understorey community to eCO2 in terms of germination, phenology, cover, community composition and leaf traits.


We collected soil containing native soil seed bank to grow experimental understorey plant communities under glasshouse conditions.

Important Findings

Phosphorus addition increased total plant cover, particularly during the first 4 weeks of growth and under high water conditions, a response driven by the graminoid component of the plant community. However, the treatment differences diminished as the experiment progressed, with all treatments converging at ~80% plant cover after ~11 weeks. In contrast, plant cover was not affected by eCO2. Multivariate analyses reflected temporal changes in the composition of plant communities, from pots where bare soil was dominant to high-cover pots dominated by a diverse community. However, both phosphorus addition and the interaction between water availability and CO2 affected the temporal trajectory of the plant community during the experiment. eCO2 also increased community-level specific leaf area, suggesting that functional adaptation of plant communities to eCO2 may precede the onset of compositional responses. Given that the response of our seed bank-derived understorey community to eCO2 developed over time and was mediated by interactions with phosphorus and water availability, our results suggest a limited role of eCO2 in shaping plant communities in water-limited systems, particularly where low soil nutrient availability constrains productivity responses.

Key words: elevated CO2, Eucalyptus woodland, modulating drivers, plant community dynamics, soil resources

鉴于林下植物群落具有的关键性功能作用和全球范围内巨大的森林覆盖面积,研究林下群落对 CO2浓度升高(eCO2)的响应以及土壤资源在这些响应中的作用,对于了解CO2浓度升高对森林生态系统造成的影响非常重要。本研究评估了在澳大利亚东部磷有限的桉树林林下群落中,两种限制性的资源(即水分和磷)在发芽、物候、覆盖率、群落组成和叶片性状等方面对eCO2响应的作用。我们收集了含有当地土壤种子库的土壤,在温室条件下种植实验性的林下植物群落。研究结果表明,添加磷提高了植物的总体覆盖率,特别是在生长期的最初4 周以及水分含量高的条件下,而且该响应是由植物群落中的类禾本科植物所驱动。然而,随着实验的进行,不同处理方法之间的差异逐渐减小,所有处理在大约11周后均达到了80%左右的植物覆盖率。相反,植物覆盖率并未受到eCO2 的影响。多元分析结果反映出植物群落组成随时间的变化,盆栽从以裸土为主变为以高覆盖率的多样化群落为主。但是在实验过程中,磷的添加以及水分可利用性和CO2之间的相互作用都对植物群落随时间的变化轨迹有所影响。CO2浓度的升高也增加了群落水平的比叶面积,这表明植物群落对eCO2的功能适应可能发生在成分响应开始之前。鉴于我们用种子库培育的林下群落对eCO2 的响应随着时间的推移而有 所变化,并且受到与磷和水分可利用性的相互作用的调节。我们的结果表明,在水分含量有限的系统中, 特别是在土壤养分可利用性低所导致的生产力响应受限的情况下,CO2浓度的升高在塑造植物群落方面作用有限。

关键词: CO2浓度升高, 桉树林地, 调节驱动因素, 植物群落动态, 土壤资源