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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • optimum temperature;
  • temperature acclimation;
  • temperature adaptation;
  • thermal optimality

Summary

  • It is well established that individual organisms can acclimate and adapt to temperature to optimize their functioning. However, thermal optimization of ecosystems, as an assemblage of organisms, has not been examined at broad spatial and temporal scales.
  • Here, we compiled data from 169 globally distributed sites of eddy covariance and quantified the temperature response functions of net ecosystem exchange (NEE), an ecosystem-level property, to determine whether NEE shows thermal optimality and to explore the underlying mechanisms.
  • We found that the temperature response of NEE followed a peak curve, with the optimum temperature (corresponding to the maximum magnitude of NEE) being positively correlated with annual mean temperature over years and across sites. Shifts of the optimum temperature of NEE were mostly a result of temperature acclimation of gross primary productivity (upward shift of optimum temperature) rather than changes in the temperature sensitivity of ecosystem respiration.
  • Ecosystem-level thermal optimality is a newly revealed ecosystem property, presumably reflecting associated evolutionary adaptation of organisms within ecosystems, and has the potential to significantly regulate ecosystem–climate change feedbacks. The thermal optimality of NEE has implications for understanding fundamental properties of ecosystems in changing environments and benchmarking global models.