The effects of elevated CO2 on leaf development in three genotypes of Populus were investigated during canopy closure, following exposure to elevated CO2 over 3 yr using free-air enrichment.• Leaf quality was altered such that nitrogen concentration per unit d. wt (Nmass) declined on average by 22 and 13% for sun and shade leaves, respectively, in elevated CO2. There was little evidence that this was the result of ‘dilution’ following accumulation of nonstructural carbohydrates. Most likely, this was the result of increased leaf thickness. Specific leaf area declined in elevated CO2 on average by 29 and 5% for sun and shade leaves, respectively.• Autumnal senescence was delayed in elevated CO2 with a 10% increase in the number of days at which 50% leaf loss occurred in elevated as compared with ambient CO2.• These data suggest that changes in leaf quality may be predicted following long-term acclimation of fast-growing forest trees to elevated CO2, and that canopy longevity may increase, with important implications for forest productivity
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