Grasses are hyper-accumulators of silicon (Si), which they acquire from the soil and deposit in tissues to resist environmental stresses. Given the high metabolic costs of herbivore defensive chemicals and structural constituents (e.g. cellulose), grasses may substitute Si for these components when carbon is limited. Indeed, high Si uptake grasses evolved in the Miocene when atmospheric CO2 concentration was much lower than present levels. It is, however, unknown how pre-industrial CO2 concentrations affect Si accumulation in grasses. Using Brachypodium distachyon, we hydroponically manipulated Si-supply (0.0, 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2 mM) and grew plants under Miocene (200 ppm) and Anthropocene levels of CO2 comprising ambient (410 ppm) and elevated (640 ppm) CO2 concentrations. We showed that regardless of Si treatments, the Miocene CO2 levels increased foliar Si concentrations by 47% and 56% relative to plants grown under ambient and elevated CO2, respectively. This is owing to higher accumulation overall, but also the reallocation of Si from the roots into the shoots. Our results suggest that grasses may accumulate high Si concentrations in foliage when carbon is less available (i.e. pre-industrial CO2 levels) but this is likely to decline under future climate change scenarios, potentially leaving grasses more susceptible to environmental stresses.
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- carbon dioxide
- climate change
- plant defence