Forest response to elevated CO2 is conserved across a broad range of productivity

Richard J. Norby, Evan H. DeLucia, Birgit Gielen, Carlo Calfapietra, Christian P. Giardina, John S. Kings, Joanne Ledford, Heather R. McCarthy, David J.P. Moore, Reinhart Ceulemans, Paolo De Angelis, Adrien C. Finzi, David F. Karnosky, Mark E. Kubiske, Martin Lukac, Kurt S. Pregitzer, Giuseppe E. Scarascia-Mugnozza, William H. Schlesinger, Ram Oren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

771 Scopus citations


Climate change predictions derived from coupled carbon-climate models are highly dependent on assumptions about feedbacks between the biosphere and atmosphere. One critical feedback occurs if C uptake by the biosphere increases in response to the fossil-fuel driven increase in atmospheric [CO2] ("CO2 fertilization"), thereby slowing the rate of increase in atmospheric [CO2]. Carbon exchanges between the terrestrial biosphere and atmosphere are often first represented in models as net primary productivity (NPP). However, the contribution of CO2 fertilization to the future global C cycle has been uncertain, especially in forest ecosystems that dominate global NPP, and models that include a feedback between terrestrial biosphere metabolism and atmospheric [CO2] are poorly constrained by experimental evidence. We analyzed the response of NPP to elevated CO 2 (≈550 ppm) in four free-air CO2 enrichment experiments in forest stands. We show that the response of forest NPP to elevated [CO2] is highly conserved across a broad range of productivity, with a stimulation at the median of 23 ± 2%. At low leaf area indices, a large portion of the response was attributable to increased light absorption, but as leaf area indices increased, the response to elevated [CO2] was wholly caused by increased light-use efficiency. The surprising consistency of response across diverse sites provides a benchmark to evaluate predictions of ecosystem and global models and allows us now to focus on unresolved questions about carbon partitioning and retention, and spatial variation in NPP response caused by availability of other growth limiting resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18052-18056
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 13 2005


  • Co fertilization
  • Global change
  • Leaf area index
  • Net primary productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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