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End of 'free ride' on ecosystem CO2 absorption

our design enables us to do just that," said Jackson. "Thus, it gives us insights into what changes occurred in the past and improves our understanding about will happen in the future." Operating the apparatus over multiple growing seasons, the scientists conducted detailed biochemical and biological analyses of the grass plants as well as the soil. They also measured how the species composition of the plant community changed.

"We found that many of the plants' physiological processes responded fairly linearly to increases in carbon dioxide, and plant production went up," said Jackson. "However, production and soil carbon storage basically saturated above 400 parts per million, a CO2 concentration very close to the current one.

"For me, this was the most interesting part of the study, because it indicates that we are now right at a threshold where the benefits of extra CO2 may not be all that great." Particularly important, said Jackson, were the measures of soil nitrogen availability. Soil bacteria metabolize organic matter, mobilizing nitrogen as ammonia and nitrate, which serves as the plants' nitrogen nutrient source

"Our measurements showed that soil nitrogen decreased about threefold in a nonlinear way, such that as CO2 went up, available nitrogen went down," said Jackson. "So that's where the fundamental nutrient limitation of the system occurred. The decrease in nitrogen availability apparently constrains the ability of the plants to use extra CO2. "

According to Jackson, the findings by him and his colleagues agree with tentative findings by the Forest-Atmosphere Carbon Transfer Storage (FACTS-1) facility at Duke (http://www.env.duke.edu/forest/FACTSI.htm). In that facility, sections of open forest are maintained at high CO2 levels, to study their effects. Data from a prototype FACTS-1 facility indicated that the forest section under study had stopped responding to high CO2 le
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
15-May-2002


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