Tracing changes in ecosystem function under elevated carbon dioxide conditions

Diane E. Pataki, David S. Ellsworth, R. Dave Evans, Miquel Gonzalez-Meler, John King, Steven W. Leavitt, Guanghui Lin, Roser Matamala, Elise Pendall, Rolf Siegwolf, Chris Van Kessel, James R. Ehleringer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Responses of ecosystems to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) remain a critical uncertainty in global change research. Two key unknown factors are the fate of carbon newly incorporated by photosynthesis into various pools within the ecosystem and the extent to which elevated CO 2 is transferred to and sequestered in pools with long turnover times. The CO2 used for enrichment in many experiments incorporates a dual isotopic tracer, in the sense that ratios of both the stable carbon-13 (13C) and the radioactive carbon-14 (14C) isotopes with respect to carbon-12 are different from the corresponding ratios in atmospheric CO2. Here we review techniques for using 13C and 14C abundances to follow the fate of newly fixed carbon and to further our understanding of the turnover times of ecosystem carbon pools. We also discuss the application of nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen isotope analyses for tracing changes in the linkages between carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles under conditions of elevated CO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-818
Number of pages14
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2003


  • Carbon cycle
  • Elevated carbon dioxide
  • Global change
  • Radiocarbon
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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