Contrasting responses of forest ecosystems to rising atmospheric CO2: Implications for the global C cycle



[1] In two parallel but independent experiments, Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) technology was used to expose plots within contrasting evergreen loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) and deciduous sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.) forests to the level of CO2 anticipated in 2050. Net primary production (NPP) and net ecosystem production (NEP) increased in both forests. In the year 2000, after exposing pine and sweetgum to elevated CO2 for approximately 5 and 3 years, a complete budget calculation revealed increases in net ecosystem production (NEP) of 41% and 44% in the pine forest and sweetgum forest, respectively, representing the storage of an additional 174 gC m−2 and 128 gC m−2 in these forests. The stimulation of NPP without corresponding increases in leaf area index or light absorption in either forest resulted in 23–27% stimulation in radiation-use efficiency, defined as NPP per unit absorbed photosynthetically active radiation. Greater plant respiration contributed to lower NPP in the loblolly pine forest than in the sweetgum forest, and these forests responded differently to CO2 enrichment. Where the pine forest added C primarily to long-lived woody tissues, exposure to elevated CO2 caused a large increase in the production of labile fine roots in the sweetgum forest. Greater allocation to more labile tissues may cause more rapid cycling of C back to the atmosphere in the sweetgum forest compared to the pine forest. Imbalances in the N cycle may reduce the response of these forests to experimental exposure to elevated CO2 in the future, but even at the current stimulation observed for these forests, the effect of changes in land use on C sequestration are likely to be larger than the effect of CO2-induced growth stimulation.