Ecology and evolution

Elevated carbon dioxide is predicted to promote coexistence among competing species in a trait-based model.

PMID 26668735


Differential species responses to atmospheric CO 2 concentration (Ca) could lead to quantitative changes in competition among species and community composition, with flow-on effects for ecosystem function. However, there has been little theoretical analysis of how elevated Ca (eC a) will affect plant competition, or how composition of plant communities might change. Such theoretical analysis is needed for developing testable hypotheses to frame experimental research. Here, we investigated theoretically how plant competition might change under eC a by implementing two alternative competition theories, resource use theory and resource capture theory, in a plant carbon and nitrogen cycling model. The model makes several novel predictions for the impact of eC a on plant community composition. Using resource use theory, the model predicts that eC a is unlikely to change species dominance in competition, but is likely to increase coexistence among species. Using resource capture theory, the model predicts that eC a may increase community evenness. Collectively, both theories suggest that eC a will favor coexistence and hence that species diversity should increase with eC a. Our theoretical analysis leads to a novel hypothesis for the impact of eC a on plant community composition. This hypothesis has potential to help guide the design and interpretation of eC a experiments.