Nitrogen and water availability control plant carbon storage with warming

Guiyao Zhou, Cesar Terrer, An Huang, Bruce A. Hungate, Natasja van Gestel, Xuhui Zhou, Kees Jan van Groenigen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Plants may slow global warming through enhanced growth, because increased levels of photosynthesis stimulate the land carbon (C) sink. However, how climate warming affects plant C storage globally and key drivers determining the response of plant C storage to climate warming remains unclear, causing uncertainty in climate projections. We performed a comprehensive meta-analysis, compiling 393 observations from 99 warming studies to examine the global patterns of plant C storage responses to climate warming and explore the key drivers. Warming significantly increased total biomass (+8.4 %), aboveground biomass (+12.6 %) and belowground biomass (+10.1 %). The effect of experimental warming on plant biomass was best explained by the availability of soil nitrogen (N) and water. Across the entire dataset, warming-induced changes in total, aboveground and belowground biomass all positively correlated with soil C:N ratio, an indicator of soil N availability. In addition, warming stimulated plant biomass more strongly in humid than in dry ecosystems, and warming tended to decrease root:shoot ratios at high soil C:N ratios. Together, these results suggest dual controls of warming effects on plant C storage; warming increases plant growth in ecosystems where N is limiting plant growth, but it reduces plant growth where water availability is limiting plant growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number158243
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Dec 10 2022


  • C-climate feedback
  • Climate warming
  • Meta-analysis
  • Mycorrhizal association
  • Nitrogen availability
  • Plant biomass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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