A first-order analysis of the potential role of CO2 fertilization to affect the global carbon budget: A comparison of four terrestrial biosphere models

David W. Kicklighter*, Michele Bruno, Silke Dönges, Gerd Esser, Martin Heimann, John Helfrich, Frank Ift, Fortunat Joos, Jörg Kaduk, Gundolf H. Kohlmaier, A. David Mcguire, Jerry M. Melillo, Robert Meyer, Berrien Moore, Andreas Nadler, I. Colin Prentice, Walter Sauf, Annette L. Schloss, Stephen Sitch, Uwe WittenbergGudrun Würth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


We compared the simulated responses of net primary production, heterotrophic respiration, net ecosystem production and carbon storage in natural terrestrial ecosystems to historical (1765 to 1990) and projected (1990 to 2300) changes of atmospheric CO2 concentration of four terrestrial biosphere models: the Bern model, the Frankfurt Biosphere Model (FBM), the High-Resolution Biosphere Model (HRBM) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM). The results of the model intercomparison suggest that CO2 fertilization of natural terrestrial vegetation has the potential to account for a large fraction of the so-called 'missing carbon sink' of 2.0 Pg C in 1990. Estimates of this potential are reduced when the models incorporate the concept that CO2 fertilization can be limited by nutrient availability. Although the model estimates differ on the potential size (126 to 461 Pg C) of the future terrestrial sink caused by CO2 fertilization, the results of the four models suggest that natural terrestrial ecosystems will have a limited capacity to act as a sink of atmospheric CO2 in the future as a result of physiological constraints and nutrient constraints on NPP. All the spatially explicit models estimate a carbon sink in both tropical and northern temperate regions, but the strength of these sinks varies over time. Differences in the simulated response of terrestrial ecosystems to CO2 fertilization among the models in this intercomparison study reflect the fact that the models have highlighted different aspects of the effect of CO2 fertilization on carbon dynamics of natural terrestrial ecosystems including feedback mechanisms. As interactions with nitrogen fertilization, climate change and forest regrowth may play an important role in simulating the response of terrestrial ecosystems to CO2 fertilization, these factors should be included in future analyses. Improvements in spatially explicit data sets, whole-ecosystems experiments and the availability of net carbon exchange measurements across the globe will also help to improve future evaluations of the role of CO2 fertilization on terrestrial carbon storage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-366
Number of pages24
JournalTellus, Series B: Chemical and Physical Meteorology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes


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