Field tested: Grasslands won't help buffer climate change as carbon dioxide levels rise

August 08, 2005

Because grasslands and forests operate in complex feedback loops with both the atmosphere and soil, understanding how ecosystems respond to global changes in climate and element cycling is critical to predicting the range of global environmental changes--and attendant ecosystem responses--likely to occur. In a new study in the premier open access journal PLoS Biology Jeffrey Dukes, Christopher Field, and colleagues treated grassland plots to every possible combination of current or increased levels of four environmental factors--CO2, temperature, precipitation, and nitrogen influx--to simulate likely regional changes over the next 100 years. The results of their long-term experiment reveal that California grasslands, and ecosystems that respond similarly, are not likely to help buffer the rate of climate change by acting as a carbon "sink"--slowing the rise of CO2 levels by storing more carbon in new growth.

The experiments were part of the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment (JRGCE), which started on Stanford's 1,200-acre biological preserve in 1997. Since 1998, this grassland ecosystem has been outfitted with an ecologist's version of a microclimate controller (complete with CO2 pumps, heaters, and irrigation tubing) and subjected to experimentally controlled atmospheric, climatic, and nutrient conditions. (This study examines the experiment's first five years.) To quantify the grassland response to these treatments, the authors estimated net primary production, or NPP (the amount of carbon left over after cellular respiration) by measuring shoot and root growth in 36 circular plots scattered across roughly two acres. The strongest effects on grassland production came from elevated levels of nitrogen (which typically reaches a fertilization limit). Elevated temperature, rainfall, and, surprisingly, CO2, had minimal impacts. These results suggest that increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 are not likely to increase growth of the roots and leaves of plants in this grassland. Why not? One possibility involves phosphorus. High levels of CO2 and nitrogen can reduce phosphorus concentrations or limit its uptake in these plants. Ongoing JRGCE experiments are exploring how this and other factors--such as grazing or shifts in seasonal events--might limit the growth effects of CO2.

It's thought that ocean and terrestrial ecosystems have stored nearly half the carbon emissions produced by humans since the industrial revolution. If it turns out that other natural systems also fail to sequester as much carbon as scientists once thought, atmospheric CO2 concentrations will rise even faster than expected--with serious implications for future climate change.
-end-
Citation: Dukes JS, Chiariello NR, Cleland EE, Moore LA, Shaw MR, et al. (2005) Responses of grassland production to single and multiple global environmental changes. PLoS Biol 3(10): e319.

CONTACT: Jeffrey S. Dukes
University of Massachusetts at Boston
Department of Biology
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA USA 02125
+1-617-287-6614
+1-617-287-6650 (fax)
jeffrey.dukes@umb.edu

PLEASE MENTION PLoS Biology (www.plosbiology.org) AS THE SOURCE FOR THESE ARTICLES. THANK YOU.

All works published in PLoS Biology are open access. Everything is immediately available without cost to anyone, anywhere--to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use--subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

PLOS

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.