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Nitrogen and phosphorus constrain the CO2 fertilization of global plant biomass


Terrer, C and Jackson, RB and Prentice, IC and Keenan, TF and Kaiser, C and Vicca, S and Fisher, JB and Reich, PB and Stocker, BD and Hungate, BA and Penuelas, J and McCallum, I and Soudzilovskaia, NA and Cernusak, LA and Talhelm, AF and Van Sundert, K and Piao, S and Newton, PCD and Hovenden, MJ and Blumenthal, DM and Liu, YY and Muller, C and Winter, K and Field, CB and Viechtbauer, W and Van Lissa, CJ and Hoosbeek, MR and Watanabe, M and Koike, T and Leshyk, VO and Polley, HW and Franklin, O, Nitrogen and phosphorus constrain the CO2 fertilization of global plant biomass, Nature Climate Change, 9 pp. 684-689. ISSN 1758-6798 (2019) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2019.

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0545-2


Elevated CO2 (eCO2) experiments provide critical information to quantify the effects of rising CO2 on vegetation. Many eCO2 experiments suggest that nutrient limitations modulate the local magnitude of the eCO2 effect on plant biomass, but the global extent of these limitations has not been empirically quantified, complicating projections of the capacity of plants to take up CO2. Here, we present a data-driven global quantification of the eCO2 effect on biomass based on 138 eCO2 experiments. The strength of CO2 fertilization is primarily driven by nitrogen (N) in ∼65% of global vegetation and by phosphorus (P) in ∼25% of global vegetation, with N- or P-limitation modulated by mycorrhizal association. Our approach suggests that CO2levels expected by 2100 can potentially enhance plant biomass by 12  3% above current values, equivalent to 59  13 PgC. The global-scale response to eCO2 we derive from experiments is similar to past changes in greenness and biomass with rising CO2, suggesting that CO2 will continue to stimulate plant biomass in the future despite the constraining effect of soil nutrients. Our research reconciles conflicting evidence on CO2 fertilization across scales and provides an empirical estimate of the biomass sensitivity to eCO2 that may help to constrain climate projections.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:nitrogen, phosphorus, CO2 fertilization, plant biomass, eCO2, climate
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Other biological sciences
Research Field:Global change biology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Global effects of climate change (excl. Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the South Pacific) (excl. social impacts)
UTAS Author:Hovenden, MJ (Professor Mark Hovenden)
ID Code:134577
Year Published:2019
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DP150102426)
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2019-08-21
Last Modified:2020-08-07

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