Global vegetation and terrestrial carbon cycle changes after the last ice age

I. C. Prentice*, S. P. Harrison, P. J. Bartlein

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    203 Citations (Scopus)


    In current models, the ecophysiological effects of CO2 create both woody thickening and terrestrial carbon uptake, as observed now, and forest cover and terrestrial carbon storage increases that took place after the last glacial maximum (LGM). Here, we aimed to assess the realism of modelled vegetation and carbon storage changes between LGM and the pre-industrial Holocene (PIH). We applied Land Processes and eXchanges (LPX), a dynamic global vegetation model (DGVM), with lowered CO2 and LGM climate anomalies from the Palaeoclimate Modelling Intercomparison Project (PMIP II), and compared the model results with palaeodata. Modelled global gross primary production was reduced by 27-36% and carbon storage by 550-694 Pg C compared with PIH. Comparable reductions have been estimated from stable isotopes. The modelled areal reduction of forests is broadly consistent with pollen records. Despite reduced productivity and biomass, tropical forests accounted for a greater proportion of modelled land carbon storage at LGM (28-32%) than at PIH (25%). The agreement between palaeodata and model results for LGM is consistent with the hypothesis that the ecophysiological effects of CO2 influence tree-grass competition and vegetation productivity, and suggests that these effects are also at work today.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)988-998
    Number of pages11
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


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