Environment international

Completing the FACE of elevated CO₂ research.

PMID 25171551


We appraise the present geographical extent and inherent knowledge limits, following two decades of research on elevated CO2 responses in plant communities, and ask whether such research has answered the key question in quantifying the limits of compensatory CO2 uptake in the major biomes. Our synthesis of all ecosystem-scale (between 10 m(2) and 3000 m(2) total experimental plot area) elevated CO2 (eCO2) experiments in natural ecosystems conducted worldwide since 1987 (n=151) demonstrates that the locations of these eCO2 experiments have been spatially biased, targeting primarily the temperate ecosystems of northern America and Europe. We consider the consequences, suggesting fundamentally that this limits the capacity of the research to understand how the world's major plant communities will respond to eCO2. Most notably, our synthesis shows that this research lacks understanding of impacts on tropical forests and boreal regions, which are potentially the most significant biomes for C sink and storage activity, respectively. Using a meta-analysis of the available data across all biomes, we show equivocal increases in net primary productivity (NPP) from eCO2 studies, suggesting that global validation is needed, especially in the most important biomes for C processing. Further, our meta-analysis identifies that few research programs have addressed eCO2 effects on below-ground C storage, such that at the global scale, no overall responses are discernable. Given the disparity highlighted in the distribution of eCO2 experiments globally, we suggest opportunities for newly-industrialized or developing nations to become involved in further research, particularly as these countries host some of the most important regions for tropical or sub-tropical forest systems. Modeling approaches that thus far have attempted to understand the biological response to eCO2 are constrained with respect to collective predictions, suggesting that further work is needed, which will link models to in situ eCO2 experiments, in order to understand how the world's most important regions for terrestrial C uptake and storage will respond to a future eCO2 atmosphere.