Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Coupled nutrient cycling determines tropical forest trajectory under

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 08:00
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Tropical forests have a disproportionate capacity to affect Earth’s climate relative to their areal extent. Despite covering just 12 % of land surface, tropical forests account for 35 % of global net primary productivity and are among the most significant of terrestrial carbon stores. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations increase over the next century, the capacity of tropical forests to assimilate and sequester anthropogenic CO2 depends on limitation by multiple factors, including the availability of soil nutrients. Phosphorus availability has been considered to be the primary factor limiting metabolic processes within tropical forests. However, recent evidence points towards strong spatial and temporal co-limitation of tropical forests by both nitrogen and phosphorus. Here, we use the Accelerated Climate Modeling for Energy (ACME) Land Model (ALMv1-ECA-CNP) to examine how nutrient cycles interact and affect the trajectory of the tropical forest carbon sink under, (i) external nutrient input, (ii) climate (iii) elevated CO2, and (iv) a combination of 1-3. ALMv1 includes recent theoretical advances in representing belowground competition between roots, microbes and minerals for N and P uptake, explicit interactions between the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles (e.g., phosphatase production and nitrogen fixation), the dynamic internal allocation of plant N and P resources, and the integration of global datasets of plant physiological traits. We report nutrient fertilization (N, P, N+P) predictions for four sites in the tropics (El Verde, Puerto Rico, Barro Colorado Island, Panama, Manaus, Brazil and the Osa Peninsula, Coast Rica) to short-term nutrient fertilization (N, P, N+P), and benchmarking of the model against a meta-analysis of forest fertilization experiments. Subsequent simulations focus on the interaction of the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles across the tropics with a focus on the implications of coupled nutrient cycling and the fate of the tropical forest carbon sink. Our results highlight the importance of transient CNP allocation, leaf-level stoichiometric controls on photosynthesis, and trade-offs between above and belowground plant investments.

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