Responses of terrestrial ecosystems and carbon budgets to current and future environmental variability


Medvigy D, Wofsy SC, Munger JW, Moorcroft PR. Responses of terrestrial ecosystems and carbon budgets to current and future environmental variability. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2010;107 :8275-8280.

Date Published:

May 4


We assess the significance of high-frequency variability of environmental parameters (sunlight, precipitation, temperature) for the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems under current and future climate. We examine the influence of hourly, daily, and monthly variance using the Ecosystem Demography model version 2 in conjunction with the long-term record of carbon fluxes measured at Harvard Forest. We find that fluctuations of sunlight and precipitation are strongly and nonlinearly coupled to ecosystem function, with effects that accumulate through annual and decadal timescales. Increasing variability in sunlight and precipitation leads to lower rates of carbon sequestration and favors broad-leaved deciduous trees over conifers. Temperature variability has only minor impacts by comparison. We also find that projected changes in sunlight and precipitation variability have important implications for carbon storage and ecosystem structure and composition. Based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model estimates for changes in high-frequency meteorological variability over the next 100 years, we expect that terrestrial ecosystems will be affected by changes in variability almost as much as by changes in mean climate. We conclude that terrestrial ecosystems are highly sensitive to high-frequency meteorological variability, and that accurate knowledge of the statistics of this variability is essential for realistic predictions of ecosystem structure and functioning.


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Last updated on 04/28/2015