BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

A Decade of CO2 Enrichment Stimulates Wood Growth by 30%
Published: February 14, 2019
Posted: April 22, 2019

Synthesis of four long-term, DOE supported, CO2 enrichment experiments show that young temperate forests increase carbon uptake at climate change–relevant timescales.

The Science
A synthesis of long-term, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)–supported experiments shows that in young temperate forests tree biomass growth increased by 30% in response to a decade of carbon dioxide (CO2) enrichment. This response was predictable with knowledge of the plant production response to CO2 and the relationship of wood production to whole-plant production under ambient CO2 conditions.

The Impact
CO2 fertilization is the stimulation of gains in plant biomass by increased atmospheric CO2, which creates a feedback on the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2. The complexity combined with the global and decadal scales of this process means that estimates of the size of the feedback remain uncertain. By synthesizing the longest running experiments in forest or woody ecosystems, this study develops understanding of the processes that determine CO2 fertilization at longer timescales and ecosystem spatial scales.

Stimulation of photosynthesis by increasing atmospheric CO2 can increase plant production, but at longer timescales it may not necessarily increase plant biomass because all the additional production could be in short-lived tissues such as leaves and fine roots. An international team of scientists, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, analyzed the four decade–long CO2 enrichment experiments in forests that measured total plant production and biomass (including below ground). Using statistical mixed-models they showed that CO2 enrichment increased biomass increment by 1.05 ± 0.26 kg of carbon per m2 (kg C m2) over a full decade. This response was predictable with knowledge of the production response to CO2 (0.16 ± 0.03 kg C m2 y–1) and the biomass retention rate (slope of the relationship between biomass increment and cumulative production; 0.55 ± 0.17), which was independent of CO2. An ensemble of terrestrial ecosystem models failed to predict both terms correctly, but with different reasons among sites. These results demonstrate that a decade of CO2 enrichment stimulates live-biomass increment in temperate, early-succession, forest ecosystems. CO2 independence of the biomass retention rate highlights the value of understanding ambient conditions for interpreting CO2 responses.

BER Program Manager
Daniel Stover
Office of Biological and Environmental Research, SC-23.1 (301-903-0289)

Principal Investigator
Anthony P. Walker
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Support by the Free Air CO2 Enrichment Model Data Synthesis (FACE-MDS) of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science,

Walker, A. P. et al. "Decadal biomass increment in early secondary succession woody ecosystems is increased by CO2 enrichment." Nature Communications 10, 454 (2019). [DOI:10.1038/s41467-019-08348-1].

Related Links

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environment Systems Data Management
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE)

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)