Obtaining instantaneous gas exchanges data is fundamental to gain information on photosynthesis. Leaf level data are reliable, but their scaling up to canopy scale is difficult as they are acquired in standard and/or controlled conditions, while natural environments are extremely dynamic. Responses to dynamic environmental conditions need to be considered, as measurements at steady state and their related models may overestimate total carbon (C) plant uptake.
In this paper, we describe an automatic, low-cost measuring system composed of 12 open chambers (60 x 60 x 150 cm; around 400 euros per chamber) able to measure instantaneous CO2 and H2O gas exchanges, as well as environmental parameters, at canopy level. We tested the system’s performance by simulating different CO2 uptake and respiration levels using a tube filled with soda lime or pure CO2, respectively, and quantified its response time and measurement accuracy. We have been also able to evaluate the delayed response due to the dimension of the chambers, proposing a method to correct the data by taking into account the response time (to) and the residence time (τ). Finally, we tested the system by growing a commercial soybean variety in fluctuating and non-fluctuating light, showing the system to be fast enough to capture fast dynamic conditions. At the end of the experiment, we compared cumulative fluxes with total plant dry biomass.
The system slightly over-estimated (+ 7.6%) the total C uptake, even though not significantly, confirming its ability in measuring the overall CO2 fluxes at canopy scale. Furthermore, the system resulted to be accurate and stable, allowing to estimate the response time and to determine steady state fluxes from unsteady state measured values. Thanks to the flexibility in the software and to the dimensions of the chambers, the system can be used for several applications and with different plant canopies by mimicking different (i.e. dynamic and static) environmental conditions.