Tropical forest responses to increasing atmospheric CO2: Current knowledge and opportunities for future research

Lucas A. Cernusak, Klaus Winter, James W. Dalling, Joseph A.M. Holtum, Carlos Jaramillo, Christian Körner, Andrew D.B. Leakey, Richard J. Norby, Benjamin Poulter, Benjamin L. Turner, S. Joseph Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations (ca) will undoubtedly affect the metabolism of tropical forests worldwide; however, critical aspects of how tropical forests will respond remain largely unknown. Here, we review the current state of knowledge about physiological and ecological responses, with the aim of providing a framework that can help to guide future experimental research. Modelling studies have indicated that elevated ca can potentially stimulate photosynthesis more in the tropics than at higher latitudes, because suppression of photorespiration by elevated ca increases with temperature. However, canopy leaves in tropical forests could also potentially reach a high temperature threshold under elevated ca that will moderate the rise in photosynthesis. Belowground responses, including fine root production, nutrient foraging and soil organic matter processing, will be especially important to the integrated ecosystem response to elevated ca. Water use efficiency will increase as ca rises, potentially impacting upon soil moisture status and nutrient availability. Recruitment may be differentially altered for some functional groups, potentially decreasing ecosystem carbon storage. Whole-forest CO2 enrichment experiments are urgently needed to test predictions of tropical forest functioning under elevated ca. Smaller scale experiments in the understorey and in gaps would also be informative, and could provide stepping stones towards stand-scale manipulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-551
Number of pages21
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2013


  • COenrichment
  • carbon storage
  • liana
  • phosphorus
  • succession
  • water use efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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