Posted February 18, 2020 05:02:13In a world that has seen the loss of biodiversity over the past century, it is perhaps unsurprising that trees that grow in the ground and absorb carbon dioxide will be more productive than those that grow indoors.
It’s an important question to ask, says Michael M. Wertheim, an associate professor of environmental studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Wertheim recently published a paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters in which he analyzed the carbon-absorbing capabilities of trees in a laboratory environment.
Wortheim’s study is one of a growing number that shows that trees produce more carbon dioxide than grasses and other vegetation that grow at a constant rate.
This finding raises questions about the role of soil moisture and other factors that might limit the uptake of CO2 by trees, he says.
“I think the main implication is that we need to do more research to understand the full range of tree photosynthesis.”
The new research focused on a species of flowering plant, the tree rose, that produces large quantities of carbon dioxide when it blooms.
To get a sense of how the plant’s photosynthetic system works, Wertheimer and his colleagues transplanted the species into a soil sample and found that it produced about two tons of carbon-containing carbon per day.
That’s about one-third the amount that trees absorb from the air every day.
Werthheim believes the study is important because it offers a glimpse into the plant itself.
“The key is understanding how it makes carbon dioxide,” he says, adding that a new understanding of the plant could help us develop new strategies to reduce carbon emissions.
Werell E. Buehler, a professor of soil science at Penn State University, says that if trees can take advantage of atmospheric CO2 and photosynthesis to reduce CO2 emissions, we might see plants that capture carbon more effectively than plants that rely solely on photosynthesis.
“That could open up opportunities for the planting of new species that take advantage,” he said.
While trees that take up CO2 absorb carbon, they are not responsible for the vast majority of the planet’s CO2-producing activity, he adds.
“We need to take into account the balance between photosynthesis and respiration and other things.”
The results were published in the January issue of the journal Ecosystems.