How light competition between plants affects their response to climate change

M.P. van Loon, F. Schieving, M. Rietkerk, S.C. Dekker, F.J. Sterck, N.P.R. Anten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


How plants respond to climate change is of major concern, as plants will strongly impact future ecosystem functioning, food production and climate. Here, we investigated how vegetation structure and functioning may be influenced by predicted increases in annual temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentration, and modeled the extent to which local plant–plant interactions may modify these effects. A canopy model was developed, which calculates photosynthesis as a function of light, nitrogen, temperature, CO2 and water availability, and considers different degrees of light competition between neighboring plants through canopy mixing; soybean (Glycine max) was used as a reference system. The model predicts increased net photosynthesis and reduced stomatal conductance and transpiration under atmospheric CO2 increase. When CO2 elevation is combined with warming, photosynthesis is increased more, but transpiration is reduced less. Intriguingly, when competition is considered, the optimal response shifts to producing larger leaf areas, but with lower stomatal conductance and associated vegetation transpiration than when competition is not considered. Furthermore, only when competition is considered are the predicted effects of elevated CO2 on leaf area index (LAI) well within the range of observed effects obtained by Free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiments. Together, our results illustrate how competition between plants may modify vegetation responses to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1265
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • leaf-area index
  • co2 enrichment face
  • canopy carbon gain
  • elevated co2
  • atmospheric co2
  • stomatal conductance
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • nitrogen availability
  • global change
  • gas-exchange

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