Field measurements of CO2 enhancement and climate change in natural vegetation

Research paper by Boyd R. Strain, Richard B. Thomas

Indexed on: 01 Aug '92Published on: 01 Aug '92Published in: Water, Air, & Soil Pollution


It is generally assumed that healthy, natural ecosystems have the potential to sequester carbon under favorable environmental conditions. There is also evidence that CO2 acts as a plant fertilizer. It is of interest to know if these assumptions are valid and how natural systems might respond under future scenarios of CO2 increase and possible climate changes. Few measurements of the effects of CO2 and global climate change have been made on “natural” ecosystems under realistic field conditions. Most measurements have been conducted in the synthetic environments of totally controlled greenhouses and growth chambers. Several lines of evidence indicate that controlled environment studies using plants growing in pots induce experimental artifacts that reduce confidence in the use of results for prediction of future global responses. Open top chambers are being used in several autecological field studies in an attempt to obtain more realistic field environments. A few field microcosm studies have been completed and a system for the free air release of CO2 has been applied in cotton fields. Unfortunately, the requirement of large amounts of CO2 and financial restrictions have precluded the initiation of larger scale field studies in natural vegetation. This paper lists and summarizes the best field studies available but draws heavily on studies from artificial environments and conditions in an attempt to summarize knowledge of global environmental change on forests and other non-agricultural ecosystems. Finally the paper concludes that there is a need for the development and application of equipment for field measurements in several representative natural ecosystems and makes specific recommendation of the creation of a tropical research center.