Accurate representation of ecosystem processes in land models is crucial for reducing predictive uncertainty in energy and greenhouse gas feedbacks with the climate. Here we describe an observational and modeling meta-analysis approach to benchmark land models, and apply the method to the land model CLM4.5 with two versions of belowground biogeochemistry. We focused our analysis on the aboveground and belowground responses to warming and nitrogen addition in high-latitude ecosystems, and identified absent or poorly parameterized mechanisms in CLM4.5. While the two model versions predicted similar soil carbon stock trajectories following both warming and nitrogen addition, other predicted variables (e.g., belowground respiration) differed from observations in both magnitude and direction, indicating that CLM4.5 has inadequate underlying mechanisms for representing high-latitude ecosystems. On the basis of observational synthesis, we attribute the model–observation differences to missing representations of microbial dynamics, aboveground and belowground coupling, and nutrient cycling, and we use the observational meta-analysis to discuss potential approaches to improving the current models. However, we also urge caution concerning the selection of data sets and experiments for meta-analysis. For example, the concentrations of nitrogen applied in the synthesized field experiments (average = 72 kg ha−1 yr−1) are many times higher than projected soil nitrogen concentrations (from nitrogen deposition and release during mineralization), which precludes a rigorous evaluation of the model responses to likely nitrogen perturbations. Overall, we demonstrate that elucidating ecological mechanisms via meta-analysis can identify deficiencies in ecosystem models and empirical experiments.