Global CO<sub>2</sub> fertilization of Sphagnum peat mosses via suppression of photorespiration during the twentieth century

Serk, Henrik; Nilsson, Mats B.; Bohlin, Elisabet; Ehlers, Ina; Wieloch, Thomas; Olid, Carolina; Grover, Samantha; Kalbitz, Karsten; Limpens, Juul; Moore, Tim; Münchberger, Wiebke; Talbot, Julie; Wang, Xianwei; Knorr, Klaus Holger; Pancotto, Verónica; Schleucher, Jürgen


Natural peatlands contribute significantly to global carbon sequestration and storage of biomass, most of which derives from Sphagnum peat mosses. Atmospheric CO2 levels have increased dramatically during the twentieth century, from 280 to > 400 ppm, which has affected plant carbon dynamics. Net carbon assimilation is strongly reduced by photorespiration, a process that depends on the CO2 to O2 ratio. Here we investigate the response of the photorespiration to photosynthesis ratio in Sphagnum mosses to recent CO2 increases by comparing deuterium isotopomers of historical and contemporary Sphagnum tissues collected from 36 peat cores from five continents. Rising CO2 levels generally suppressed photorespiration relative to photosynthesis but the magnitude of suppression depended on the current water table depth. By estimating the changes in water table depth, temperature, and precipitation during the twentieth century, we excluded potential effects of these climate parameters on the observed isotopomer responses. Further, we showed that the photorespiration to photosynthesis ratio varied between Sphagnum subgenera, indicating differences in their photosynthetic capacity. The global suppression of photorespiration in Sphagnum suggests an increased net primary production potential in response to the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2, in particular for mire structures with intermediate water table depths.