Carbon fluxes and interannual drivers in a temperate forest ecosystem assessed through comparison of top-down and bottom-up approaches

Andrew P. Ouimette, Scott V. Ollinger, Andrew D. Richardson, David Y. Hollinger, Trevor F. Keenan, Lucie C. Lepine, Matthew A. Vadeboncoeur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Despite decades of research, gaining a comprehensive understanding of carbon (C) cycling in forests remains a considerable challenge. Uncertainties stem from persistent methodological limitations and the difficulty of resolving top-down estimates of ecosystem C exchange with bottom-up measurements of individual pools and fluxes. To address this, we derived estimates and associated uncertainties of ecosystem C fluxes for a 100–125 year old mixed temperate forest stand at the Bartlett Experimental Forest, New Hampshire, USA, using three different approaches: (1) tower-based eddy covariance, (2) a biometric approach involving C flux measurements of individual ecosystem subcomponents, and (3) an inventory approach involving changes in major C stocks over time. Our analysis made use of 13 years of data, collected over the period from 2004 to 2016. Estimates of mean annual net ecosystem production (NEP) ranged from 120 to 133 g C m−2, demonstrating strong agreement among methods and suggesting that this aging forest acts as a moderate C sink. The use of multiple approaches to measure C fluxes and their uncertainties helped place constraints on difficult-to-measure processes such as aboveground contributions to ecosystem respiration and belowground allocation to mycorrhizal fungal biomass (which was estimated at 20% of net primary production). Analysis of interannual variability in C fluxes revealed a decoupling between annual wood growth and either current year or lagged NEP or GPP, suggesting that source limitation (C supply) is likely not controlling rates of wood production, at least on an interannual scale. Results also demonstrated a strong association between the maximum rate of C uptake during the growing season (Amax) and the length of the vernal window, defined as the period of time between soil thaw and the onset of photosynthesis. This suggests an important, but poorly understood, influence of winter and spring climate on mid-summer canopy physiology. Efforts to resolve the mechanisms responsible should be prioritized in light of ongoing and predicted changes in climate for the northeastern U.S. region, particularly during the winter and winter-spring transition period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-430
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Jun 15 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Biometric
  • Carbon fluxes
  • Eddy covariance
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Vernal window

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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