A meta-analysis of the combined effects of elevated carbon dioxide and chronic warming on plant %N, protein content and N-uptake rate

AoB Plants. 2021 May 25;13(4):plab031. doi: 10.1093/aobpla/plab031. eCollection 2021 Aug.


Elevated CO2 (eCO2) and high temperatures are known to affect plant nitrogen (N) metabolism. Though the combined effects of eCO2 and chronic warming on plant N relations have been studied in some detail, a comprehensive statistical review on this topic is lacking. This meta-analysis examined the effects of eCO2 plus warming on shoot and root %N, tissue protein concentration (root, shoot and grain) and N-uptake rate. In the analyses, the eCO2 treatment was categorized into two classes (<300 or ≥300 ppm above ambient or control), the temperature treatment was categorized into three classes (<1.5, 1.5-5 and >5 °C above ambient or control), plant species were categorized based on growth form and functional group and CO2 treatment technique was also investigated. Elevated CO2 alone or in combination with warming reduced shoot %N (more so at ≥300 vs. <300 ppm above ambient CO2), while root %N was significantly reduced only by eCO2; warming alone often increased shoot %N, but mostly did not affect root %N. Decreased shoot %N with eCO2 alone or eCO2 plus warming was greater for woody and non-woody dicots than for grasses, and for legumes than non-legumes. Though root N-uptake rate was unaffected by eCO2, eCO2 plus warming decreased N-uptake rate, while warming alone increased it. Similar to %N, protein concentration decreased with eCO2 in shoots and grain (but not roots), increased with warming in grain and decreased with eCO2 and warming in grain. In summary, any benefits of warming to plant N status and root N-uptake rate will generally be offset by negative effects of eCO2. Hence, concomitant increases in CO2 and temperature are likely to negate or decrease the nutritional quality of plant tissue consumed as food by decreasing shoot %N and shoot and/or grain protein concentration, caused, at least in part, by decreased root N-uptake rate.

Keywords: Climate change; elevated CO2; heat stress; meta-analysis; nitrogen metabolism; nitrogen translocation; nitrogen-uptake rate; protein; warming.

Publication types

  • Review