Elevated CO2 does not increase eucalypt forest productivity on a low-phosphorus soil

David S. Ellsworth*, Ian C. Anderson, Kristine Y. Crous, Julia Cooke, John E. Drake, Andrew N. Gherlenda, Teresa E. Gimeno, Catriona A. Macdonald, Belinda E. Medlyn, Jeff R. Powell, Mark G. Tjoelker, Peter B. Reich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

181 Citations (Scopus)


Rising atmospheric CO2 stimulates photosynthesis and productivity of forests, offsetting CO2 emissions. Elevated CO2 experiments in temperate planted forests yielded ∼23% increases in productivity over the initial years. Whether similar CO2 stimulation occurs in mature evergreen broadleaved forests on low-phosphorus (P) soils is unknown, largely due to lack of experimental evidence. This knowledge gap creates major uncertainties in future climate projections as a large part of the tropics is P-limited. Here, we increased atmospheric CO2 concentration in a mature broadleaved evergreen eucalypt forest for three years, in the first large-scale experiment on a P-limited site. We show that tree growth and other aboveground productivity components did not significantly increase in response to elevated CO2 in three years, despite a sustained 19% increase in leaf photosynthesis. Moreover, tree growth in ambient CO2 was strongly P-limited and increased by ∼35% with added phosphorus. The findings suggest that P availability may potentially constrain CO2 -enhanced productivity in P-limited forests; hence, future atmospheric CO2 trajectories may be higher than predicted by some models. As a result, coupled climate-carbon models should incorporate both nitrogen and phosphorus limitations to vegetation productivity in estimating future carbon sinks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-282
Number of pages4
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


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