Learn how plants respond to higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations

How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

Click to locate material archived on our website by topic

Mid- and High-Latitude Forests Respond to Environmental Change

Paper Reviewed
Fang, J., Kato, T., Guo, Z., Yang, Y., Hu, H., Shen, H., Zhao, X., Kishimoto-Mo, A.W., Tang, Y. and Houghton, R.A. 2014. Evidence for environmentally enhanced forest growth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111: 9527-9532.

In the words of Fang et al. (2014), "recent studies indicate that forests in the middle and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere have functioned as a significant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over the past decades," citing Goodale et al. (2002), Bonan (2008), Pan et al. (2011) and Fang et al. (2014). And they say that "this carbon sink results from two major processes: age-related growth (regrowth) after land use change and growth enhancement due to environmental changes (simply called "growth enhancement" hereafter), such as elevated CO2, nitrogen (N) deposition, and climate change," citing Caspersen et al. (2000), Schimel et al. (2000), Joos et al. (2002), Vetter et al. (2005), Albani et al. (2006), Magnani et al. (2007), McMahon et al. (2010), Hember et al. (2012) and Shevliakova et al. (2013).

Focusing on environmental changes, Fang et al. employed a unique time series of an age-class dataset from six national forest inventories in Japan along with a new approach developed in their study (i.e., examining changes in biomass density at each age class over the inventory periods) to quantify the growth enhancement due to environmental changes and its contribution to the biomass carbon sink of Japan's forests. In doing so the ten researchers determined that the growth enhancement of four major forest plantations ranged from 4.0 to approximately 7.7 Mg C/ha from 1980 to 2005, which corresponds to "8.4 to 21.6% of biomass carbon sequestration per hectare and 4.1 to 35.5% of the country's total net biomass increase of each forest type."

With respect to the importance of their findings, Fang et al. say, first of all, that the significant contribution of environmentally enhanced growth to the forest biomass carbon sink emphasizes that "carbon accumulation in forest ecosystems will not necessarily attenuate at a predictable rate as forests mature." And, second, they suggest that "to reduce the uncertainties in predicting future carbon dynamics in forest ecosystems, land surface models should not only consider land-use history, but also account for key physiological processes governing the fate of carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems, such as the effects of CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, and climate warming on vegetation growth."

Albani, M., Medvigy, D., Hurtt, G.C. and Moorcroft, P.R. 2006. The contributions of land-use change, CO2 fertilization, and climate variability to the eastern US carbon sink. Global Change Biology 12: 2370-2390.

Bonan, G.B. 2008. Forests and climate change: Forcings, feedbacks, and the climate benefits of forests. Science 320: 1444-1449.

Caspersen, J.P., Pacala, S.W., Jenkins, J.C., Hurtt, G.C., Moorcroft, P.R. and Birdsey, R.A. 2000. Contribution of increasing CO2 and climate to carbon storage by ecosystems in the United States. Science 290: 1148-1151.

Fang, J., Guo, Z., Hu, H., Kato, T., Muraoka, H. and Son, Y. 2014. Forest biomass carbon sinks in East Asia, with special reference to the relative contributions of forest expansion and forest growth. Global Change Biology 20: 2019-2030.

Goodale, L., Apps, M.J., Birdsey, R.A., Field, C.B., Heath, L.S., Houghton, R.A., Jenkins, J.C., Kohlmaier, G.H., Kurz, W.A., Liu, S.,Nabuurs, G.-J., Nilsson, S. and Shvidenko, A.X. 2002. Forest carbon sinks in the northern hemisphere. Ecological Applications 12: 891-899.

Hember, R.A., Kurz, W.A., Metsaranta, J.M., Black, T.A., Guy, R.D. and Coops, N.C. 2012. Accelerating regrowth of temperate maritime forests due to environmental change. Global Change Biology 18: 2026-2040.

Joos, F., Prentice, I.C. and House, J.I. 2002. Growth enhancement due to global atmospheric change as predicted by terrestrial ecosystem models: Consistent with US forest inventory data. Global Change Biology 8: 299-303.

Magnani, F., Mencuccini, M., Borghetti, M., Berbigier, P., Berninger, F., Delzon, S., Grelle, A., Hari, P., Jarvis, P.G., Kolari, P., Kowalski, A.S., Lankreijer, H., Law, B.E., Lindroth, A., Loustau, D., Manca, G., Moncrieff, J.B., Rayment, M., Tedeschi, V., Valentini, R. and Grace, J. 2007. The human footprint in the carbon cycle of temperate and boreal forests. Nature 447: 848-850.

McMahon, S.M., Parker, G.G. and Miller, D.R. 2010. Evidence for a recent increase in forest growth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107: 3611-3615.

Pan, Y., Birdsey, R.A., Fang, J., Houghton, R., Kauppi, P.E., Kurz, W.A., Phillips, O.L., Shvidenko, A., Lewis, S.L., Canadell, J.G., Ciais, P., Jackson, R.B., Pacala, S.W., McGuire, A.D., Piao, S., Rautiainen, A., Sitch, S. and Hayes, D. 2011. A large and persistent carbon sink in the world's forests. Science 333: 988-993.

Schimel, D., Melillo, J., Tian, H., McGuire, A.D., Kicklighter, D., Kittel, T., Rosenbloom, N., Running, S., Thornton, P., Ojima, D., Parton, W., Kelly, R., Sykes, M., Neilson, R. and Rizzo, B. 2000. Contribution of increasing CO2 and climate to carbon storage by ecosystems in the United States. Science 287: 2004-2006.

Shevliakova, E., Stouffer, R.J., Malyshev, S., Krasting, J.P., Hurtt, G.C. and Pacala, S.W. 2013. Historical warming reduced due to enhanced land carbon uptake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110: 16,730-16,735.

Vetter, M., Wirth, C., Bottcher, H., Churkina, G., Schulze, E.-D. and Wutzler, T. 2005. Partitioning direct and indirect human-induced effects on carbon sequestration of managed coniferous forests using model simulations and forest inventories. Global Change Biology 11: 810-827.

Posted 20 October 2014