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Greater ecosystem carbon in the Mojave Desert after ten years exposure to elevated CO2


Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas inducing climate change. Increased global CO2 emissions, estimated at 8.4 Pg C yr1 at present, have accelerated from 1% yr1 during 1990–1999 to 2.5% yr1 during 2000–2009 (ref. 1). The carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems is the greatest unknown in the global C budget because the actual magnitude, location and causes of terrestrial sinks are uncertain2; estimates of terrestrial C uptake, therefore, are often based on the residuals between direct measurements of the atmospheric sink and well-constrained models of ocean uptake of CO2 (ref. 3). Here we report significant terrestrial C accumulation caused by CO2 enhancement to net ecosystem productivity in an intact, undisturbed arid ecosystem4,5,6,7,8 following ten years of exposure to elevated atmospheric CO2. Results provide direct evidence that CO2 fertilization substantially increases ecosystem C storage and that arid ecosystems are significant, previously unrecognized, sinks for atmospheric CO2 that must be accounted for in efforts to constrain terrestrial and global C cycles.

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Figure 1: Ecosystem C and N under ambient and elevated CO2.
Figure 2: Ecosystem C and N isotope composition under ambient and elevated CO2.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge grant support from the Department of Energy’s Terrestrial Carbon Processes Program (DE-FG02-03ER63650, DEFG02-03ER63651) and the NSF Ecosystem Studies Program (DEB-98-14358 and 02-12819). We also acknowledge the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration for providing utility services and undisturbed land at the Nevada National Security Site (formerly Nevada Test Site) to conduct the FACE experiment. We also thank S. Chung at WSU for advice on current emission inventories.

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S.S. and R.N. conceived the study. R.E., S.S., R.N., T.C., B.N. and L.F. designed the final harvest. R.E. and A.K. collected soils data, S.S., T.C. and B.N. collected aboveground plant data and R.N. collected belowground plant data. L.F. and T.C. determined plot area and species composition. B.H. provided elemental and isotopic analyses, and D.S. and K.O. analysed the data. All authors wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to R. D. Evans.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Evans, R., Koyama, A., Sonderegger, D. et al. Greater ecosystem carbon in the Mojave Desert after ten years exposure to elevated CO2. Nature Clim Change 4, 394–397 (2014).

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