Links across ecological scales: Plant biomass responses to elevated CO2

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  • Julia Maschler
  • Lalasia Bialic-Murphy
  • Joe Wan
  • Louise C. Andresen
  • Constantin M. Zohner
  • Peter B. Reich
  • Andreas Lüscher
  • Manuel K. Schneider
  • Christoph Müller
  • Gerald Moser
  • Jeffrey S. Dukes
  • Schmidt, Inger Kappel
  • Mark C. Bilton
  • Kai Zhu
  • Thomas W. Crowther

The degree to which elevated CO2 concentrations (e[CO2]) increase the amount of carbon (C) assimilated by vegetation plays a key role in climate change. However, due to the short-term nature of CO2 enrichment experiments and the lack of reconciliation between different ecological scales, the effect of e[CO2] on plant biomass stocks remains a major uncertainty in future climate projections. Here, we review the effect of e[CO2] on plant biomass across multiple levels of ecological organization, scaling from physiological responses to changes in population-, community-, ecosystem-, and global-scale dynamics. We find that evidence for a sustained biomass response to e[CO2] varies across ecological scales, leading to diverging conclusions about the responses of individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems. While the distinct focus of every scale reveals new mechanisms driving biomass accumulation under e[CO2], none of them provides a full picture of all relevant processes. For example, while physiological evidence suggests a possible long-term basis for increased biomass accumulation under e[CO2] through sustained photosynthetic stimulation, population-scale evidence indicates that a possible e[CO2]-induced increase in mortality rates might potentially outweigh the effect of increases in plant growth rates on biomass levels. Evidence at the global scale may indicate that e[CO2] has contributed to increased biomass cover over recent decades, but due to the difficulty to disentangle the effect of e[CO2] from a variety of climatic and land-use-related drivers of plant biomass stocks, it remains unclear whether nutrient limitations or other ecological mechanisms operating at finer scales will dampen the e[CO2] effect over time. By exploring these discrepancies, we identify key research gaps in our understanding of the effect of e[CO2] on plant biomass and highlight the need to integrate knowledge across scales of ecological organization so that large-scale modeling can represent the finer-scale mechanisms needed to constrain our understanding of future terrestrial C storage.

TidsskriftGlobal Change Biology
Udgave nummer21
Sider (fra-til)6115-6134
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
JM was funded by grants to TWC from DOB Ecology, LCA by the FORMAS grant 2017‐00423 and the strategic research area BECC (Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate), CMZ by the Ambizione grant PZ00P3_193646, PBR by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Long‐Term Ecological Research (LTER) grant DEB‐1831944, LTREB DEB‐1753859, and Biological Integration Institutes grant NSF‐DBI‐2021898, KZ by the NSF grants DEB‐1926438 and DEB‐2045309. We also acknowledge the long‐term funding of the GiFACE infrastructure by the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG).

Publisher Copyright:
Global Change Biology© 2022 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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