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Publication Date
12 March 2024

Plant responses to elevated CO2 under competing hypotheses of nitrogen and phosphorus limitations



The future ecosystem carbon cycle has important implications for biosphere‐climate feedback. The magnitude of future plant growth and carbon accumulation depends on plant strategies for nutrient uptake under the stresses of nitrogen (N) versus phosphorus (P) limitations. Two archetypal theories have been widely acknowledged in the literature to represent N and P limitations on ecosystem processes: Liebig's Law of the Minimum (LLM) and the Multiple Element Limitation (MEL) approach. LLM states that the more limiting nutrient controls plant growth, and commonly leads to predictions of dramatically dampened ecosystem carbon accumulation over the 21st century. Conversely, the MEL approach recognizes that plants possess multiple pathways to coordinate N and P availability and invest resources to alleviate N or P limitation. We implemented these two contrasting approaches in the E3SM model, and compiled 98 in situ forest N or P fertilization experiments to evaluate how terrestrial ecosystems will respond to N and P limitations. We find that MEL better captured the observed plant responses to nutrient perturbations globally, compared with LLM. Furthermore, LLM and MEL diverged dramatically in responses to elevated CO2 concentrations, leading to a two‐fold difference in CO2 fertilization effects on Net Primary Productivity by the end of the 21st century. The larger CO2 fertilization effects indicated by MEL mainly resulted from plant mediation on N and P resource supplies through N2 fixation and phosphatase activities. This analysis provides quantitative evidence of how different N and P limitation strategies can diversely affect future carbon and nutrient dynamics.

Zhu, Qing, William J. Riley, Jinyun Tang, and Nicholas J. Bouskill. 2024. “Plant Responses To Elevated Co2 Under Competing Hypotheses Of Nitrogen And Phosphorus Limitations”. Ecological Applications. Wiley. doi:10.1002/eap.2967.
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