Higher Carbon Dioxide concentrations can impede plant growth

A recently published study has found that higher Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are not advantageous to plants, and instead may inhibit Nitrogen absorption which is critical to their growth and overall health.

The study was led by The University of Gothenburg who collaborated with partners from China, the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and was published in Global Change Biology. The results of the study showed that as Carbon Dioxide concentrations increased, plant Nitrogen concentrations decreased which in turn decreased the plant’s protein levels and growth. The research team studied a range of ecosystems including grasslands and forests in 8 countries across 4 continents.


Senior Lecturer at the University of Gotherburg Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and lead researcher Johan Uddling stated that for all ecosystem types, high Carbon Dioxide concentrations can impede plant absorption and this partly explains such concentrations have either a marginal or no effect in many ecosystems.

Some scientists and conservatives reportedly had a long held hope that increasing Carbon Dioxide concentrations could facilitate plant growth in the short term. Uddling was adamant that the findings showed that the negative effects were seen whether or not plant growth increases and if fertiliser is added, which was an unexpected finding. The study found that increased Carbon Dioxide concentrations led to less nutritious wheat and rice crops. According to the International Development Research Centre, along with maize, wheat and rice are the most important crops globally (providing more than 50% of the world’s plant derived energy), and therefore the result of this study have international ramifications.


Uddling pointed to some previous studies that showed lower Nitrogen content for plants grown in increased Carbon Dioxide concentrations but attributed this to dilution-as Carbon stimulates growth and the rate of photosynthesis increases, the uptake of Nitrogen couldn’t be maintained. He said the results of his study called the results of the previous studies into question, and were also found when strong fertilisers were added and therefore limited access to Nitrogen in the soil was not likely to be a factor.

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