A meta-analysis of 1,119 manipulative experiments on terrestrial carbon-cycling responses to global change


Direct quantification of terrestrial biosphere responses to global change is crucial for projections of future climate change in Earth system models. Here, we synthesized ecosystem carbon-cycling data from 1,119 experiments performed over the past four decades concerning changes in temperature, precipitation, CO2 and nitrogen across major terrestrial vegetation types of the world. Most experiments manipulated single rather than multiple global change drivers in temperate ecosystems of the USA, Europe and China. The magnitudes of warming and elevated CO2 treatments were consistent with the ranges of future projections, whereas those of precipitation changes and nitrogen inputs often exceeded the projected ranges. Increases in global change drivers consistently accelerated, but decreased precipitation slowed down carbon-cycle processes. Nonlinear (including synergistic and antagonistic) effects among global change drivers were rare. Belowground carbon allocation responded negatively to increased precipitation and nitrogen addition and positively to decreased precipitation and elevated CO2. The sensitivities of carbon variables to multiple global change drivers depended on the background climate and ecosystem condition, suggesting that Earth system models should be evaluated using site-specific conditions for best uses of this large dataset. Together, this synthesis underscores an urgent need to explore the interactions among multiple global change drivers in underrepresented regions such as semi-arid ecosystems, forests in the tropics and subtropics, and Arctic tundra when forecasting future terrestrial carbon-climate feedback.

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Fig. 1: Global distribution of manipulative experiments and the magnitudes of experimental manipulations against model projections.
Fig. 2: Effects of different drivers on carbon-cycle variables.
Fig. 3: Local climate conditions and plant traits affecting carbon-cycle responses to global change drivers.
Fig. 4: Interaction types of two-driver pairs.

Data availability

The data supporting the results can be found in Song, J., Wan, S., Ru, J., Zhou, Z., Shao, P., Han, H., Lei, L., Wang, J., Li, X., Zhang, Q., Li, X., Su, F., Liu, B., Yang, F., Ma, G., Zhang, K., Hu, M., Yan, C., Zhang, A., Zhong, M., Hui, Y., Li, Y. & Zheng, M. Figshare https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.7442915.


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We thank J. Wang (Hebei University), S. Yang (Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences), L. Zhou (East China Normal University), C. Qiao (Xinyang Normal University) and H. Li (Henan University) for their help in meta-analyses and interaction analyses, and H. Li, Y. Liu (Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences) and Y. He (Peking University) for their help in plotting figures. This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 31430015 and 31830012). This study emerged from the INTERFACE Workshop in Beijing, China (https://www.bio.purdue.edu/INTERFACE/) supported by the US NSF DEB-0955771. We also acknowledge support from the ClimMani COST action (ES1308).

Author information

S.W. designed the research. J.S., J.R., Z.Z., P.S., H.H., D.W., L. Lei, J.W., Xiaona L., Q.Z., Xiaoming L., F.S., B.L., F.Y., G.M., G.L., Yanchun L., Yinzhan L., Z.Y., K.Z., Y.M., M.H., C.Y., A.Z., M. Zhong, Y.H., Y. Li. and M. Zheng collected the 2,230 publications. J.S., J.R., Z.Z. and Q.L. performed the data extraction and analysis as well as figure plotting. J.S., S.W. and S.P. wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and A.K.K., A.T.C., S.V., P.C., M.J.H., S.L., C.B., P.K., J.X., Y. Luo, D.G., J.A.L., J.Z., J.S.D., J.T., J.C., K.S.H., L.M.K., L.R., L. Liu, M.D.S., P.H.T., R.Q.T., R.J.N., R.P.P., S.N., S.F. and Y.W. contributed substantially to revisions.

Correspondence to Shiqiang Wan.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–20, Tables 1–4 and text.

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Cross-reference table of 1,119 experiments and 2,230 publications.

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Song, J., Wan, S., Piao, S. et al. A meta-analysis of 1,119 manipulative experiments on terrestrial carbon-cycling responses to global change. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1309–1320 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0958-3

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