Forest carbon balance under elevated CO2

Jason G. Hamilton, Evan H. DeLucia, Kate George, Shawna L. Naidu, Adrien C. Finzi, William H. Schlesinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) technology was used to expose a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) forest to elevated atmospheric CO2 (ambient + 200 μl 1-1). After 4 years, basal area of pine trees was 9.2% larger in elevated than in ambient CO2 plots. During the first 3 years the growth rate of pine was stimulated by ∼26%. In the fourth year this stimulation declined to 23%. The average net ecosystem production (NEP) in the ambient plots was 428 gC m-2 year-1, indicating that the forest was a net sink for atmospheric CO2. Elevated atmospheric CO2 stimulated NEP by 41%. This increase was primarily an increase in plant biomass increment (57%), and secondarily increased accumulation of carbon in the forest floor (35%) and fine root increment (8%). Net primary production (NPP) was stimulated by 27%, driven primarily by increases in the growth rate of the pines. Total heterotrophic respiration (Rh) increased by 165%, but total autotrophic respiration (Ra) was unaffected. Gross primary production was increased by 18%. The largest uncertainties in the carbon budget remain in separating belowground heterotrophic (soil microbes) and autotrophic (root) respiration. If applied to temperate forests globally, the increase in NEP that we measured would fix less than 10% of the anthropogenic CO2 projected to be released into the atmosphere in the year 2050. This may represent an upper limit because rising global temperatures, land disturbance, and heterotrophic decomposition of woody tissues will ultimately cause an increased flux of carbon back to the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-260
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Free-air CO enrichment
  • Global carbon cycle
  • Pinus taeda

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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