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Temperature thresholds of ecosystem respiration at a global scale


Ecosystem respiration is a major component of the global terrestrial carbon cycle and is strongly influenced by temperature. The global extent of the temperature–ecosystem respiration relationship, however, has not been fully explored. Here, we test linear and threshold models of ecosystem respiration across 210 globally distributed eddy covariance sites over an extensive temperature range. We find thresholds to the global temperature–ecosystem respiration relationship at high and low air temperatures and mid soil temperatures, which represent transitions in the temperature dependence and sensitivity of ecosystem respiration. Annual ecosystem respiration rates show a markedly reduced temperature dependence and sensitivity compared to half-hourly rates, and a single mid-temperature threshold for both air and soil temperature. Our study indicates a distinction in the influence of environmental factors, including temperature, on ecosystem respiration between latitudinal and climate gradients at short (half-hourly) and long (annual) timescales. Such climatological differences in the temperature sensitivity of ecosystem respiration have important consequences for the terrestrial net carbon sink under ongoing climate change.

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Fig. 1: Global distribution of the FLUXNET sites.
Fig. 2: Global extent of the temperature–ecosystem respiration (Re) relationship.
Fig. 3: The global soil temperature–ecosystem respiration relationship.
Fig. 4: Temperature thresholds of ecosystem respiration (Re) across five climates.
Fig. 5: Long-term temperature thresholds of ecosystem respiration (Re).

Data availability

The data analysed during the current study are available on the FLUXNET website ( and are subject to data policy restrictions ( Summaries for each FLUXNET site are provided in Supplementary Data 1.

Code availability

The R code used for analysis during the current study is available on Zenodo (


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This work used eddy covariance data acquired and shared by the FLUXNET community and was supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (RPG-2017-071) and a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award (RL-2019-012) to C.V. A.M. was supported by BBSRC (BB/S019952/1) and the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2019-170), P.D.B. by the US Department of Energy Office of Science (7094866), D.B. by French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-10-LABX-25-01; ANR-11-LABX-0002-01), J.D. by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic (LM2015061), C.G. by a National Science Foundation Award (1655095) and A.V. by Russian Foundation for Basic Research project 19-04-01234-a. We also thank J. Baker, G. Butler and A. Navarro Campoy for helpful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.S.A.J. and C.V. developed the methodology and led the writing of the manuscript. A.S.A.J. and A.M. conducted the data analysis. J.A., N.A., D.B., A.B., P.D.B., C.B., A.C., J.D., A.G., B.G., I.G., C.M.G., H.I., R.J., H.K., V.M., G.M., L.M., F.E.M., J.E.O., T.S., C.S., T.T., G.W., S.W., W.W. and A.V. contributed data. All authors contributed to manuscript revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alice S. A. Johnston.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Chris Huntingford and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Short-term temperature and ecosystem respiration measurements in conventional units.

Night-time half-hourly ecosystem respiration measurements from the FLUXNET dataset (symbols, colours representing climate as in Fig. 2) for a) air and b) soil temperature. Plots show ecosystem respiration rates in mg C m−2 hr−1 and temperature in degrees Celsius units.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Identification of low frequency air temperature intervals.

Boxplot of the half-hourly ecosystem respiration measurements from the FLUXNET dataset (symbols, colours representing climate as in Fig. 2) presented in 5 °C air temperature intervals. Boxplots show median values (centre lines) and upper and lower quantiles, with black symbols representing outliers. Asterisks at the top indicate extreme high and low 5 °C temperature intervals with few measurements (< 1 % of the dataset, n < 235,521). The temperature intervals with asterisks (low frequency intervals) were removed from the dataset one by one as well as all together and the threshold model tested. The temperature breakpoints were robust to the removal of each temperature interval one by one but there was no support for a cold temperature breakpoint (−24.8 °C in Fig. 2b,c) when all low frequency intervals or all those < −19 °C were removed. A single temperature breakpoint emerged from the threshold model when all low frequency intervals were removed (Extended Data Fig. 3 and Supplementary Table 3).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Threshold model for ecosystem respiration rates and air temperature when all low frequency temperature intervals were removed.

Threshold model for half-hourly ecosystem respiration rates and air temperature when all low frequency temperature intervals shown in Extended Data Fig. 2 (identified by asterisks) were removed from the dataset. Threshold model predictions (solid line, for the fixed effects of temperature only in a) identified a single temperature threshold of 14.6 °C, with little support for a second temperature breakpoint (b, ΔAIC < 5 and p > 0.05). The dashed line in a indicate an activation energy of −7.50 K as predicted by metabolic theory and ΔAICs in b are between the linear and threshold model. Full details of the threshold mixed effects model are presented in Supplementary Table 3.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Correlation matrix between site variables and model goodness of fit.

Correlation matrix between FLUXNET site variables (latitude, maximum, minimum, mean and air temperature range (°C)) and the goodness of fit (adjusted r2) of the best performing model for predicting the temperature dependence of ecosystem respiration at the site level (threshold, n = 197; linear, n = 13; Supplementary Data 1).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Long-term temperature threshold for soil respiration.

Long-term temperature threshold for soil respiration (Rs), showing a) mean annual Rs from the global soil respiration database (symbols, colours representing climate as in Fig. 2) and the threshold model prediction (solid line, for the fixed effects of temperature only); and b) identification of a single temperature breakpoint of 5.5 °C, with little support for a second temperature breakpoint (ΔAIC < 5 and p > 0.05). Dashed lines indicate an activation energy of −7.50 K as predicted by metabolic theory and ΔAICs are between the linear and threshold model. Full details of the threshold mixed effects model are presented in Supplementary Table 6.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–6.

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Supplementary Data 1

Summary of the FLUXNET sites, indicating site names, latitude, climate, number of site years, mean air and soil temperature, ecosystem respiration rate and best fitting linear or threshold models at the site level.

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Johnston, A.S.A., Meade, A., Ardö, J. et al. Temperature thresholds of ecosystem respiration at a global scale. Nat Ecol Evol 5, 487–494 (2021).

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