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Keywords:

  • ecosystem photosynthesis;
  • meta-analysis;
  • net ecosystem exchange;
  • plant biomass;
  • plant productivity;
  • precipitation;
  • respiration;
  • warming

Abstract

Global mean temperature is predicted to increase by 2–7 °C and precipitation to change across the globe by the end of this century. To quantify climate effects on ecosystem processes, a number of climate change experiments have been established around the world in various ecosystems. Despite these efforts, general responses of terrestrial ecosystems to changes in temperature and precipitation, and especially to their combined effects, remain unclear. We used meta-analysis to synthesize ecosystem-level responses to warming, altered precipitation, and their combination. We focused on plant growth and ecosystem carbon (C) balance, including biomass, net primary production (NPP), respiration, net ecosystem exchange (NEE), and ecosystem photosynthesis, synthesizing results from 85 studies. We found that experimental warming and increased precipitation generally stimulated plant growth and ecosystem C fluxes, whereas decreased precipitation had the opposite effects. For example, warming significantly stimulated total NPP, increased ecosystem photosynthesis, and ecosystem respiration. Experimentally reduced precipitation suppressed aboveground NPP (ANPP) and NEE, whereas supplemental precipitation enhanced ANPP and NEE. Plant productivity and ecosystem C fluxes generally showed higher sensitivities to increased precipitation than to decreased precipitation. Interactive effects of warming and altered precipitation tended to be smaller than expected from additive, single-factor effects, though low statistical power limits the strength of these conclusions. New experiments with combined temperature and precipitation manipulations are needed to conclusively determine the importance of temperature–precipitation interactions on the C balance of terrestrial ecosystems under future climate conditions.