Impacts of Stoichiometry Traits on Carbon Accumulation using the E3SM Land Model

Date Published
Plant stoichiometric flexibility controls the CO2 fertilization effect on ecosystem carbon accumulation.
  • Harmonize observed plant tissue C:N:P stoichiometry from more than 6,000 plant species using the Plant Functional Type (PFT) framework common in global land models.
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  • The lack of reliable information about plant tissue stoichiometric traits remains a challenge to quantifying nutrient limitations on projected global C cycling.
  • Using observed C:N:P stoichiometry and the flexibility of these ratios as emergent plant traits, observationally constrained fixed plant stoichiometry does not improve model estimates of present-day C dynamics compared with unconstrained stoichiometry.
  • Adopting stoichiometric flexibility significantly improves model predictions of C fluxes and stocks.
  • Twenty-first century simulations with RCP8.5 CO2 concentrations show that stoichiometric flexibility, rather than baseline stoichiometric ratios, is the dominant controller of plant productivity and ecosystem C accumulation in modeled responses to CO2 fertilization.
  • This study is consistent with the previous consensus that nutrient availability will limit future land carbon sequestration but challenges the idea that imbalances between C and nutrient supplies and fixed stoichiometry limit future land C sinks.
  • It is necessary to represent nutrient stoichiometric flexibility in models to accurately project future terrestrial ecosystem carbon sequestration.
Image with caption

Total and partitioned ecosystem carbon gain from 2006 to 2100 under RCP8.5 elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations for the three ELMv1-ECA simulated scenarios (BASE, FIXED, FLEX).


Zhu Q, WJ Riley, CM Iversen, and J Kattge. 2020. Assessing impacts of plant stoichiometric traits on terrestrial ecosystem carbon accumulation using the E3SM land model. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, accepted.


This research was supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 as part of the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project.

For more information, please contact:

Qing Zhu

William Riley