• carbon balance;
  • eddy covariance;
  • ecosystem respiration;
  • gross ecosystem production;
  • net ecosystem exchange


The net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of forests represents the balance of gross primary productivity (GPP) and respiration (R). Methods to estimate these two components from eddy covariance flux measurements are usually based on a functional relationship between respiration and temperature that is calibrated for night-time (respiration) fluxes and subsequently extrapolated using daytime temperature measurements. However, respiration fluxes originate from different parts of the ecosystem, each of which experiences its own course of temperature. Moreover, if the temperature–respiration function is fitted to combined data from different stages of biological development or seasons, a spurious temperature effect may be included that will lead to overestimation of the direct effect of temperature and therefore to overestimates of daytime respiration. We used the EUROFLUX eddy covariance data set for 15 European forests and pooled data per site, month and for conditions of low and sufficient soil moisture, respectively. We found that using air temperature (measured above the canopy) rather than soil temperature (measured 5 cm below the surface) yielded the most reliable and consistent exponential (Q10) temperature–respiration relationship. A fundamental difference in air temperature-based Q10 values for different sites, times of year or soil moisture conditions could not be established; all were in the range 1.6–2.5. However, base respiration (R0, i.e. respiration rate scaled to 0°C) did vary significantly among sites and over the course of the year, with increased base respiration rates during the growing season. We used the overall mean Q10 of 2.0 to estimate annual GPP and R. Testing suggested that the uncertainty in total GPP and R associated with the method of separation was generally well within 15%. For the sites investigated, we found a positive relationship between GPP and R, indicating that there is a latitudinal trend in NEE because the absolute decrease in GPP towards the pole is greater than in R.