Precipitation manipulation and terrestrial carbon cycling: The roles of treatment magnitude, experimental duration and local climate

Jinsong Wang, Dashuan Tian, Alan K. Knapp, Han Y.H. Chen, Yiqi Luo, Zhaolei Li, Enqing Hou, Xinzhao Huang, Lifen Jiang, Shuli Niu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Aim: Precipitation manipulation experiments have shown diverse terrestrial carbon (C) cycling responses when the ecosystem is subjected to different magnitudes of altered precipitation, various experimental durations or heterogeneity in local climate. However, how these factors combine to affect C cycle responses to changes in precipitation remains unclear. Location: Global. Time period: 1990–2019. Major taxa studied: Terrestrial ecosystems. Methods: Using observations from 230 published studies in which precipitation was manipulated and terrestrial C cycling variables were measured, we conducted a global meta-analysis to investigate responses of diverse C cycle processes to altered precipitation, including gross ecosystem productivity, ecosystem respiration, net ecosystem productivity, ecosystem carbon use efficiency, net primary productivity (NPP), aboveground and belowground NPP, aboveground and belowground biomass, shoot-to-root ratio, soil respiration and soil microbial biomass C. Results: We found that C cycling responses were correlated linearly and positively with the magnitude of precipitation treatments. We also detected that the responses of NPP and its aboveground component (ANPP) to altered precipitation weakened with experimental duration. Furthermore, gross ecosystem productivity, ecosystem respiration and net ecosystem productivity showed larger responses to precipitation treatments of greater magnitude over shorter time periods. The response of soil respiration, a key component of the C budget in most terrestrial ecosystems, depended in particular on the local climate. Local temperature and precipitation not only influenced the magnitude of the response of soil respiration to altered precipitation but also affected its sensitivity to the magnitude of the precipitation treatments, with higher sensitivities in the response of soil respiration to treatment magnitude at drier and colder sites. Main conclusions: Our findings highlight the importance of the interactions between the magnitude of precipitation treatments, their duration and the local climate in the response of ecosystem C cycling to altered precipitation, which is crucial to a better understanding of ecosystem C processes and functioning and projecting them under changing precipitation regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1909-1921
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • carbon cycling
  • climatic context
  • experimental duration
  • precipitation response
  • synthesis
  • treatment magnitude

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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