Elevated CO2 stimulates net accumulations of carbon and nitrogen in land ecosystems: A meta-analysis

Yiqi Luo, Dafeng Hui, Deqiang Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

785 Scopus citations


The capability of terrestrial ecosystems to sequester carbon (C) plays a critical role in regulating future climatic change yet depends on nitrogen (N) availability. To predict long-term ecosystem C storage, it is essential to examine whether soil N becomes progressively limiting as C and N are sequestered in long-lived plant biomass and soil organic matter. A critical parameter to indicate the long-term progressive N limitation (PNL) is net change in ecosystem N content in association with C accumulation in plant and soil pools under elevated CO2. We compiled data from 104 published papers that study C and N dynamics at ambient and elevated CO2. The compiled database contains C contents, N contents, and C:N ratio in various plant and soil pools, and root:shoot ratio. Averaged C and N pool sizes in plant and soil all significantly increase at elevated CO2 in comparison to those at ambient CO2, ranging from a 5% increase in shoot N content to a 32% increase in root C content. The C and N contents in litter pools are consistently higher in elevated than ambient CO2 among all the surveyed studies whereas C and N contents in the other pools increase in some studies and decrease in other studies. The high variability in CO 2-induced changes in C and N pool sizes results from diverse responses of various C and N processes to elevated CO2. Averaged C:N ratios are higher by 3% in litter and soil pools and 11% in root and shoot pools at elevated relative to ambient CO2. Elevated CO2 slightly increases root:shoot ratio. The net N accumulation in plant and soil pools at least helps prevent complete down-regulation of, and likely supports, long-term CO2 stimulation of C sequestration. The concomitant C and N accumulations in response to rising atmospheric CO2 may reflect intrinsic nature of ecosystem development as revealed before by studies of succession over hundreds to millions of years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-63
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon sequestration
  • Ecosystem development
  • Global change
  • Meta-analysis
  • Nitrogen
  • Stoichiometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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