Rising CO2 accelerates phosphorus and molybdenum limitation of N2-fixation in young tropical trees

Annette M. Trierweiler, Klaus Winter, Lars O. Hedin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Nitrogen fixation may be critical for supplying the nitrogen (N) needed to maintain the tropical carbon sink in a world of rising atmospheric CO2. However, we do not know whether increased CO2 acts to exacerbate nutrient limitation on the fixation process itself. We experimentally test this idea by growing N2-fixing plants in pre-Industrial (280 ppm), present-day (400 ppm), and doubled (800 ppm) atmospheric CO2. Methods: In a greenhouse experiment, we grew tree seedlings from N2-fixing species and a non-fixing species at three CO2 concentrations with control, +P (phosphorus), +Mo (molybdenum), and + P +Mo nutrient treatments. Results: We found nutrient limitation to be minimal at pre-Industrial CO2, but with increasing CO2 fixer growth and fixation became increasingly limited by P and by a P-by-Mo interaction. At 400 ppm, plants with +P grew ~50% faster and fixed 10-15× more N2 based on nodule mass and nitrogenase activity. At 800 ppm, plants with +P +Mo grew 200% more, and fixed 25× more N2, suggesting Mo-P co-limitation at elevated CO2. Conclusion: Our findings imply that complex patterns of nutrient limitation can develop as CO2 rises, potentially suppressing tropical N2-fixation and the new inputs of N needed to sustain the tropical carbon sink.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-373
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


  • CO fertilization
  • Global change ecology
  • Molybdenum
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Phosphorous
  • Tropical carbon sink
  • Tropical nitrogen fixation


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