Minor stimulation of soil carbon storage by nitrogen addition: A meta-analysis

Meng Lu, Xuhui Zhou, Yiqi Luo, Yuanhe Yang, Changming Fang, Jiakuan Chen, Bo Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

406 Scopus citations


It is a well-established concept that nitrogen (N) limits plant growth and ecosystem production. However, whether N limits land carbon (C) sequestration - particularly in soil, the largest pool in the land - remains highly controversial. We conducted a meta-analysis to synthesize 257 studies published in the literature with 512 paired comparisons to quantify the changes of ecosystem C processes in response to N addition. Our results show that N addition significantly increased aboveground, belowground, and litter C pools by 35.7, 23.0, and 20.9%, respectively, across all the studies. Despite the substantial increases in C inputs from vegetation to soil system, N addition resulted in no significant change in C storage of both organic horizon and mineral soil in forests and grasslands, but a significant 3.5% increase in agricultural ecosystems, largely due to less contribution from aboveground production and increases in DOC and soil respiration. Thus, N stimulation of C storage primarily occurred in plant pools but little in soil pools. Moreover, N-induced change in soil C storage was positively related to changes in belowground production but not to those in aboveground growth. Our global synthesis also suggests that earth system models need to treat soil C inputs from aboveground and belowground sources differentially for soil C sequestration in response to N deposition and fertilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-244
Number of pages11
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 30 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboveground C pool
  • Belowground C pool
  • Carbon sequestration
  • DOC
  • Litter C pool
  • Microbial biomass C
  • N addition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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