Comparing ecosystem and soil respiration: Review and key challenges of tower-based and soil measurements

Josep Barba, Alejandro Cueva, Michael Bahn, Greg A. Barron-Gafford, Benjamin Bond-Lamberty, Paul J. Hanson, Aline Jaimes, Liisa Kulmala, Jukka Pumpanen, Russell L. Scott, Georg Wohlfahrt, Rodrigo Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


The net ecosystem exchange (NEE) is the difference between ecosystem CO2 assimilation and CO2 losses to the atmosphere. Ecosystem respiration (Reco), the efflux of CO2 from the ecosystem to the atmosphere, includes the soil-to-atmosphere carbon flux (i.e., soil respiration; Rsoil) and aboveground plant respiration. Therefore, Rsoil is a fraction of Reco and theoretically has to be smaller than Reco at daily, seasonal, and annual scales. However, several studies estimating Reco with the eddy covariance technique and measuring Rsoil within the footprint of the tower have reported higher Rsoil than Reco at different time scales. Here, we compare four different and contrasting ecosystems (from forest to grasslands, and from boreal to semiarid) to test if measurements of Reco are consistently higher than Rsoil. In general, both fluxes showed similar temporal patterns, but Reco was not consistently higher than Rsoil from daily to annual scales across sites. We identified several issues that apply for measuring NEE and measuring/upscaling Rsoil that could result in an underestimation of Reco and/or an overestimation of Rsoil. These issues are discussed based on (a) nighttime measurements of NEE, (b) Rsoil measurements, and (c) the interpretation of the functional relationships of these fluxes with temperature (i.e., Q10). We highlight that there is still a need for better integration of Rsoil with eddy covariance measurements to address challenges related to the spatial and temporal variability of Reco and Rsoil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-443
Number of pages10
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Feb 15 2018


  • AmeriFlux
  • Eddy covariance
  • Net ecosystem exchange (NEE)
  • Q
  • Soil CO efflux
  • Temperature sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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