Nitrogen feedbacks increase future terrestrial ecosystem carbon uptake in an individual-based dynamic vegetation model

David Wårlind, Benjamin Smith, Thomas Hickler, Almut Arneth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently a considerable amount of effort has been put into quantifying how interactions of the carbon and nitrogen cycle affect future terrestrial carbon sinks. Dynamic vegetation models, representing the nitrogen cycle with varying degree of complexity, have shown diverging constraints of nitrogen dynamics on future carbon sequestration. In this study, we use LPJ-GUESS, a dynamic vegetation model employing a detailed individual- and patch-based representation of vegetation dynamics, to evaluate how population dynamics and resource competition between plant functional types, combined with nitrogen dynamics, have influenced the terrestrial carbon storage in the past and to investigate how terrestrial carbon and nitrogen dynamics might change in the future (1850 to 2100; one representative "business-as-usual" climate scenario). Single-factor model experiments of CO2 fertilisation and climate change show generally similar directions of the responses of C–N interactions, compared to the C-only version of the model as documented in previous studies using other global models. Under an RCP 8.5 scenario, nitrogen limitation suppresses potential CO2 fertilisation, reducing the cumulative net ecosystem carbon uptake between 1850 and 2100 by 61%, and soil warming-induced increase in nitrogen mineralisation reduces terrestrial carbon loss by 31%. When environmental changes are considered conjointly, carbon sequestration is limited by nitrogen dynamics up to the present. However, during the 21st century, nitrogen dynamics induce a net increase in carbon sequestration, resulting in an overall larger carbon uptake of 17% over the full period. This contrasts with previous results with other global models that have shown an 8 to 37% decrease in carbon uptake relative to modern baseline conditions. Implications for the plausibility of earlier projections of future terrestrial C dynamics based on C-only models are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6131-6146
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Physical Geography


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