Using 139 flux studies, we addressed the variability of net ecosystem surface assimilation (Asmax), net ecosystem surface respiration (Rsmax), as well as net surface evapotranspiration (Esmax) among and within vegetation types. While forests and C3 crops, particularly in the northern hemisphere, have been preferentially investigated, information on tropical forests, C4 grasslands or wetlands is rather limited. Almost no data are available for disturbed sites. Despite large variations within a vegetation type, enclosure studies tended to give highest Asmax rates compared to micrometeorological techniques. Excluding enclosure studies, we tested the effect of stand age and leaf area index (LAI) on net ecosystem gas exchange. For grasslands, Asmax increased by 7 μmol m−2 s−1 per unit LAI, for C4 crops by 11 μmol m−2 s−1, and for coniferous forests by 0.9 μmol m−2 s−1 per unit LAI. In contrast, Asmax of broad-leaved forests and C3 crops as well as Rsmax stayed constant over a wide range of LAI. Asmax and Rsmax of forests were lowest in young stands (< 20 years old) and highest in stands of age 30–80 years. Asmax of old forests (> 160 years) was within the same range as those of 30- to 80-year-old forests, and always higher than those of regenerating stands. Rsmax seemed to decrease with age. Asmax increased linearly with ecosystem surface conductance for all vegetation types (r2 = 0.65). Asmax of forests and grasslands was closely related to Esmax (r2 = 0.87), with a slope of 0.082 μmol CO2 m−2 s−1/mmol H2O m−2 s−1. The results clearly illustrated where gaps in our knowledge exist and how ecosystem properties affect the capacity of net ecosystem gas exchange.
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