Using a combination of model simulations and detailed measurements at a hierarchy of scales conducted at a sandhills forest site, the effect of fertilization on net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and its components in 6-year-old Pinus taeda stands was quantified. The detailed measurements, collected over a 20-d period in September and October, included gas exchange and eddy covariance fluxes, sampled for a 10-d period each at the fertilized stand and at the control stand. Respiration from the forest floor and above-ground biomass was measured using chambers during the experiment. Fertilization doubled leaf area index (LAI) and increased leaf carboxylation capacity by 20%. However, this increase in total LAI translated into an increase of only 25% in modelled sunlit LAI and in canopy photosynthesis. It is shown that the same climatic and environmental conditions that enhance photosynthesis in the September and October periods also cause an increase in respiration The increases in respiration counterbalanced photosynthesis and resulted in negligible NEE differences between fertilized and control stands. The fact that total biomass of the fertilized stand exceeded 2·5 times that of the control, suggests that the counteracting effects cannot persist throughout the year. In fact, modelled annual carbon balance showed that gross primary productivity (GPP) increased by about 50% and that the largest enhancement in NEE occurred in the spring and autumn, during which cooler temperatures reduced respiration more than photosynthesis. The modelled difference in annual NEE between fertilized and control stands (approximately 200 1;g 2;C 3;m−2 y−1) suggest that the effect of fertilization was sufficiently large to transform the stand from a net terrestrial carbon source to a net sink.