The Extinction Chronicles

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(Kasturi Laxmi Mohit/Unsplash)
SEBASTIAN LEUZINGER, THE CONVERSATION
19 OCT 2019

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is warming our climate, but it also affects plants directly.

A tree planted in the 1850s will have seen its diet (in terms of atmospheric carbon dioxide) double from its early days to the middle of our century. More CO2 generally leads to higher rates of photosynthesis and less water consumption in plants. So, at first sight, it seems that CO2 can only be beneficial for our plants.

But things are a lot more complex than that. Higher levels of photosynthesis don’t necessarily lead to more biomass production, let alone to more carbon dioxide sequestration.

At night, plants release CO2 just like animals or humans, and if those respiration rates increase simultaneously, the turnover of carbon increases, but the carbon stock doesn’t. You can think of this like a bank account – if…

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