Dynamic carbon-nitrogen coupling under global change

Shuli Niu, Lei Song, Jinsong Wang, Yiqi Luo, Guirui Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Carbon-nitrogen coupling is a fundamental principle in ecosystem ecology. However, how the coupling responds to global change has not yet been examined. Through a comprehensive and systematic literature review, we assessed how the dynamics of carbon processes change with increasing nitrogen input and how nitrogen processes change with increasing carbon input under global change. Our review shows that nitrogen input to the ecosystem mostly stimulates plant primary productivity but inconsistently decreases microbial activities or increases soil carbon sequestration, with nitrogen leaching and nitrogenous gas emission rapidly increasing. Nitrogen fixation increases and nitrogen leaching decreases to improve soil nitrogen availability and support plant growth and ecosystem carbon sequestration under elevated CO2 and temperature or along ecosystem succession. We conclude that soil nitrogen cycle processes continually adjust to change in response to either overload under nitrogen addition or deficiency under CO2 enrichment and ecosystem succession to couple with carbon cycling. Indeed, processes of both carbon and nitrogen cycles continually adjust under global change, leading to dynamic coupling in carbon and nitrogen cycles. The dynamic coupling framework reconciles previous debates on the “uncoupling” or “decoupling” of ecosystem carbon and nitrogen cycles under global change. Ecosystem models failing to simulate these dynamic adjustments cannot simulate carbon-nitrogen coupling nor predict ecosystem carbon sequestration well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)771-782
Number of pages12
JournalScience China Life Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • carbon sequestration
  • carbon-nitrogen interaction
  • global change
  • nitrogen limitation
  • soil nitrogen cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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