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Increases in nitrogen uptake rather than nitrogen-use efficiency support higher rates of temperate forest productivity under elevated CO2

Authors: 
Finzi, AC, RJ Norby, C Calfapietra, A Gallet-Budynek, B Gielen, WE Holmes, MR Hoosbeek, CM Iversen, RB Jackson, ME Kubiske, J Ledford, M Liberloo, R Oren, A Polle, S Pritchard, DR Zak, WH Schlesinger, R Ceulemans
Year: 
2007
Journal: 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA
Journal Volume/Pages: 
104: 14014-14019

Forest ecosystems are important sinks for rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2. In previous research, we showed that net primary production (NPP) increased by 23 ± 2% when four experimental forests were grown under atmospheric concentrations of CO2 predicted for the latter half of this century. Because nitrogen (N) availability commonly limits forest productivity, some combination of increased N uptake from the soil and more efficient use of the N already assimilated by trees is necessary to sustain the high rates of forest NPP under free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE). In this study, experimental evidence demonstrates that the uptake of N increased under elevated CO2 at the Rhinelander, Duke, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory FACE sites, yet fertilization studies at the Duke and Oak Ridge National Laboratory FACE sites showed that tree growth and forest NPP were strongly limited by N availability. By contrast, nitrogen-use efficiency increased under elevated CO2 at the POP-EUROFACE site, where fertilization studies showed that N was not limiting to tree growth. Some combination of increasing fine root production, increased rates of soil organic matter decomposition, and increased allocation of carbon (C) to mycorrhizal fungi is likely to account for greater N uptake under elevated CO2. Regardless of the specific mechanism, this analysis shows that the larger quantities of C entering the below-ground system under elevated CO2 result in greater N uptake, even in N-limited ecosystems. Biogeochemical models must be reformulated to allow C transfers below ground that result in additional N uptake under elevated CO2.

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