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Productivity overshadows temperature in determining soil and ecosystem respiration across European forests


Dr Ivan Janssens, fax + 32/3-820 22 71, e-mail


This paper presents CO2 flux data from 18 forest ecosystems, studied in the European Union funded EUROFLUX project. Overall, mean annual gross primary productivity (GPP, the total amount of carbon (C) fixed during photosynthesis) of these forests was 1380 ± 330 gC m−2 y−1 (mean ±SD). On average, 80% of GPP was respired by autotrophs and heterotrophs and released back into the atmosphere (total ecosystem respiration, TER = 1100 ± 260 gC m−2 y−1). Mean annual soil respiration (SR) was 760 ± 340 gC m−2 y−1 (55% of GPP and 69% of TER).

Among the investigated forests, large differences were observed in annual SR and TER that were not correlated with mean annual temperature. However, a significant correlation was observed between annual SR and TER and GPP among the relatively undisturbed forests. On the assumption that (i) root respiration is constrained by the allocation of photosynthates to the roots, which is coupled to productivity, and that (ii) the largest fraction of heterotrophic soil respiration originates from decomposition of young organic matter (leaves, fine roots), whose availability also depends on primary productivity, it is hypothesized that differences in SR among forests are likely to depend more on productivity than on temperature.

At sites where soil disturbance has occurred (e.g. ploughing, drainage), soil espiration was a larger component of the ecosystem C budget and deviated from

the relationship between annual SR (and TER) and GPP observed among the less-disturbed forests. At one particular forest, carbon losses from the soil were so large, that in some years the site became a net source of carbon to the atmosphere. Excluding the disturbed sites from the present analysis reduced mean SR to 660 ± 290 gC m−2 y−1, representing 49% of GPP and 63% of TER in the relatively undisturbed forest ecosystems.