• below-ground carbon cycling;
  • below-ground net primary production (BNPP);
  • carbon allocation;
  • gross primary production (GPP);
  • mean annual temperature (MAT);
  • total below-ground carbon flux (TBCF)


  • 1
    The fraction of gross primary production (GPP) that is total below-ground carbon flux (TBCF) and the fraction of TBCF that is below-ground net primary production (BNPP) represent globally significant C fluxes that are fundamental in regulating ecosystem C balance. However, global estimates of the partitioning of GPP to TBCF and of TBCF to BNPP, as well as the absolute size of these fluxes, remain highly uncertain.
  • 2
    Efforts to model below-ground processes are hindered by methodological difficulties for estimating below-ground C cycling, the complexity of below-ground interactions, and an incomplete understanding of the response of GPP, TBCF and BNPP to climate change. Due to a paucity of available data, many terrestrial ecosystem models and ecosystem-level studies of whole stand C use efficiency rely on assumptions that: (i) C allocation patterns across large geographic, climatic and taxonomic scales are fixed; and (ii) c. 50% of TBCF is BNPP.
  • 3
    Here, we examine available information on GPP, TBCF, BNPP, TBCF : GPP and BNPP : TBCF from a diverse global data base of forest ecosystems to understand patterns in below-ground C flux and partitioning, and their response to mean annual temperature (MAT).
  • 4
    MAT and mean annual precipitation (MAP) covaried strongly across the global forest data base (37 mm increase in MAP for every 1 °C increase in MAT). In all analyses, however, MAT was the most important variable explaining observed patterns in below-ground C processes.
  • 5
    GPP, TBCF and BNPP all increased linearly across the global scale range of MAT. TBCF : GPP increased significantly with MAT for temperate and tropical ecosystems (> 5 °C), but variability was high across the data set. BNPP : TBCF varied from 0·26 to 0·53 across the entire MAT gradient (−5 to 30 °C), with a much narrower range of 0·42 to 0·53 for temperate and tropical ecosystems (5 to 30 °C).
  • 6
    Variability in the data sets was moderate and clear exceptions to the general patterns exist that likely relate to other factors important for determining below-ground C flux and partitioning, in particular water availability and nutrient supply. Still, our results highlight global patterns in below-ground C flux and partitioning in forests in response to MAT that in part confirm previously held assumptions.