Kirschbaum, M.U.F., Simioni, G., Medlyn, B.E. and McMurtrie, R.E. (2003). On the importance of including soil nutrient feed-back effects for predicting ecosystem carbon exchange. Functional Plant Biology 30: 223-237.


Abstract. To grow, plants need both carbon, which is fixed in photosynthesis, and inorganic nutrients, which are generally obtained from the soil. There is currently much interest in trying to understand the uptake and storage of carbon by terrestrial ecosystems. This paper investigates to what extent carbon gain and storage are modified by soil-nutrient availability. This issue is investigated in relation to both short-term carbon fluxes on the time scale of interannual variability and for long-term ecosystem carbon stocks on time scales of several thousand years.

            We conclude from simulations with an ecosystem model (CenW) that interannual variations in carbon gain can be significantly affected by feed-back effects through the nutrient cycle. This feed-back effect operates principally through an imbalance between carbon and nutrient dynamics. In years that allow high carbon gain, nutrient supply typically does not match the increased carbon supply so that foliar nutrient concentrations are reduced. This lowers productivity below that which could be expected if foliar nutrient concentration remained the same. The importance of these feed-back effects is shown to be greatest at intermediate levels of water availability and nutrient supply, and is relatively more important for net ecosystem carbon exchange than for net primary production.

            We conclude that the long-term build-up of carbon stocks in ecosystems is often controlled by the rate at which nutrients can be gained. This conclusion is based on data from published studies showing that the slow build-up of carbon matches the gain in nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, and on our simulations of system carbon stocks in response to fertiliser addition.

            The paper concludes with a discussion of the importance and feasibility of including these processes into models at different scales, including the broad continental scale. For modelling net ecosystem exchange for Australia, it is regarded as feasible and desirable to use models that are constrained by these system-internal feed-back effects. Such models have already been used for large-scale simulations in Australia and other countries.



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