Montane forest root growth and soil organic layer depth as potential factors stabilizing Cenozoic global change

Christopher E. Doughty, Lyla L. Taylor, Cecile A.J. Girardin, Yadvinder Malhi, David J. Beerling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Tree roots and their symbiotic fungal partners are believed to play a major role in regulating long-term global climate, but feedbacks between global temperature and biotic weathering have not yet been explored in detail. In situ field data from a 3000 m altitudinal transect in Peru show fine root growth decreases and organic layer depth increases with the cooler temperatures that prevail at increased altitude. We hypothesize that this observation suggests a negative feedback: as global temperatures rise, the soil organic layer will shrink, and more roots will grow in the mineral layer, thereby accelerating weathering and reducing atmospheric CO2. We examine this mechanism with a process-based biological weathering model and demonstrate that this negative feedback could have contributed to moderating long-term global Cenozoic climate during major Cenozoic CO2 changes linked to volcanic degassing and tectonic uplift events. Key Points Weathering rates decrease at elevation partially due to a thick soil organic layer If global climate is perturbed, montane ecosystems may buffer perturbations We show two tectonic events when this may have occurred

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)983-990
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 16 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Elevation transect
  • Montane forests
  • NPP
  • Weathering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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