Net ecosystem carbon exchange in two experimental grassland ecosystems

Paul S.J. Verburg, John A. Arnone, Daniel Obrist, David E. Schorran, R. David Evans, Debbie Leroux-Swarthout, Dale W. Johnson, Yiqi Luo, James S. Coleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Increases in net primary production (NPP) may not necessarily result in increased C sequestration since an increase in uptake can be negated by concurrent increases in ecosystem C losses via respiratory processes. Continuous measurements of net ecosystem C exchange between the atmosphere and two experimental cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) ecosystems in large dynamic flux chambers (EcoCELLs) showed net ecosystem C losses to the atmosphere in excess of 300 g Cm-2 over two growing cycles. Even a doubling of net ecosystem production (NEP) after N fertilization in the second growing season did not compensate for soil C losses incurred during the fallow period. Fertilization not only increased C uptake in biomass but also enhanced C losses through soil respiration from 287 to 469 g C m-2, mainly through an increase in rhizosphere respiration. Fertilization decreased dissolved inorganic C losses through leaching of from 45 to 10 g C m-2. Unfertilized cheatgrass added 215 g C m-2 as root-derived organic matter but the contribution of these inputs to long-term C sequestration was limited as these deposits rapidly decomposed. Fertilization increased NEP but did not increase belowground C inputs most likely due to a concurrent increase in the production and decomposition of rhizodeposits. Decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) was reduced by fertilizer additions. The results from our study show that, although annual grassland ecosystems can add considerable amounts of C to soils during the growing season, it is unlikely that they sequester large amounts of C because of high respiratory losses during dormancy periods. Although fertilization could increase NEP, fertilization might reduce soil C inputs as heterotrophic organisms favor root-derived organic matter over native SOM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-508
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bromus tectorum
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Grasslands
  • Net ecosystem productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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