Contrasting responses of woody and grassland ecosystems to increased CO2 as water supply varies

Yude Pan, Robert B. Jackson, David Y. Hollinger, Oliver L. Phillips, Robert S. Nowak, Richard J. Norby, Ram Oren, Peter B. Reich, Andreas Lüscher, Kevin E. Mueller, Clenton Owensby, Richard Birdsey, John Hom, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Experiments show that elevated atmospheric CO2 (eCO2) often enhances plant photosynthesis and productivity, yet this effect varies substantially and may be climate sensitive. Understanding if, where and how water supply regulates CO2 enhancement is critical for projecting terrestrial responses to increasing atmospheric CO2 and climate change. Here, using data from 14 long-term ecosystem-scale CO2 experiments, we show that the eCO2 enhancement of annual aboveground net primary productivity is sensitive to annual precipitation and that this sensitivity differs between woody and grassland ecosystems. During wetter years, CO2 enhancement increases in woody ecosystems but declines in grass-dominated systems. Consistent with this difference, woody ecosystems can increase leaf area index in wetter years more effectively under eCO2 than can grassland ecosystems. Overall, and across different precipitation regimes, woody systems had markedly stronger CO2 enhancement (24%) than grasslands (13%). We developed an empirical relationship to quantify aboveground net primary productivity enhancement on the basis of changes in leaf area index, providing a new approach for evaluating eCO2 impacts on the productivity of terrestrial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-323
Number of pages9
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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