Will the CO2 Fertilization Effect in Forests Be Offset by Reduced Tree Longevity?

Oecologia. 2011 Feb;165(2):533-44. doi: 10.1007/s00442-010-1837-4. Epub 2010 Nov 23.

Abstract

Experimental studies suggest that tree growth is stimulated in a greenhouse atmosphere, leading to faster carbon accumulation (i.e., a higher rate of gap filling). However, higher growth may be coupled with reduced longevity, thus leading to faster carbon release (i.e., a higher rate of gap creation). The net effect of these two counteracting processes is not known. We quantify this net effect on aboveground carbon stocks using a novel combination of data sets and modeling. Data on maximum growth rate and maximum longevity of 141 temperate tree species are used to derive a relationship between growth stimulation and changes in longevity. We employ this relationship to modify the respective parameter values of tree species in a forest succession model and study aboveground biomass in a factorial design of growth stimulation × reduced maximum longevity at multiple sites along a climate gradient from the cold to the dry treeline. The results show that (1) any growth stimulation at the tree level leads to a disproportionately small increase of stand biomass due to negative feedback effects, even in the absence of reduced longevity; (2) a reduction of tree longevity tends to offset the growth-related biomass increase; at the most likely value of reduced longevity, the net effect is very close to zero in most multi- and single-species simulations; and (3) when averaging the response across all sites to mimic a "landscape-level" response, the net effect is close to zero. Thus, it is important to consider ecophysiological responses with their linkage to demographic processes in forest trees if one wishes to avoid erroneous inference at the ecosystem level. We conclude that any CO(2) fertilization effect is quite likely to be offset by an associated reduction in the longevity of forest trees, thus strongly reducing the carbon mitigation potential of temperate forests.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Fertilizers*
  • Models, Biological
  • Soil / analysis
  • Trees / growth & development
  • Trees / physiology*

Substances

  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Carbon Dioxide