Uncoupled carbon uptake and storage

Forests are expected to help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon, with elevated carbon dioxide boosting photosynthesis and carbon uptake. However, the amount of carbon that can be stored in wood also depends on temperature, water, and nutrient availability. Cabon et al. examined temporal correlations between trees’ carbon uptake and woody growth by combining data on tree rings and gross primary productivity measures from 78 forests with carbon dioxide flux towers (see the Perspective by Green and Keenan). They found weak correlations between productivity and woody growth, which responded differently to seasonal temperatures and water availability. Their work shows that limits to tree growth, particularly in dry and cold areas, may constrain potential forest carbon storage. —BEL


Uncertainties surrounding tree carbon allocation to growth are a major limitation to projections of forest carbon sequestration and response to climate change. The prevalence and extent to which carbon assimilation (source) or cambial activity (sink) mediate wood production are fundamentally important and remain elusive. We quantified source-sink relations across biomes by combining eddy-covariance gross primary production with extensive on-site and regional tree ring observations. We found widespread temporal decoupling between carbon assimilation and tree growth, underpinned by contrasting climatic sensitivities of these two processes. Substantial differences in assimilation-growth decoupling between angiosperms and gymnosperms were determined, as well as stronger decoupling with canopy closure, aridity, and decreasing temperatures. Our results reveal pervasive sink control over tree growth that is likely to be increasingly prominent under global climate change.

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References (3355)

References and Notes

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Published In

Volume 376 | Issue 6594
13 May 2022

Submission history

Received: 21 September 2021
Accepted: 16 February 2022
Published in print: 13 May 2022


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We thank C. Hanson, S. Wharton, R. Brooks, and S. Klesse for contributing data to this study, as well as contributors at the International Tree-Ring Data Bank, FLUXNET, and AmeriFlux.
Funding: Supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Program, Ecosystem Services and Agro-Ecosystem Management, grant 2018-67019-27850 (A.C., S.A.K., and W.R.L.A.); the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and NSF grants 1714972, 1802880, 2044937, and 2003017 (W.R.L.A.); NSF Ecosystem Science cluster grant 1753845, USDA Forest Service Forest Health Protection Evaluation Monitoring program grant 19-05, and DOE Environmental System Science program grant DE-SC0022052 (S.A.K.); Arctic Challenge for Sustainability II grant JPMXD1420318865 (M.U.); USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Program grant 2017-67013-26191 (J.T.M.); and DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research grant DE-SC0010611 and NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences grant 1241851 (D.J.M.). Funding for the AmeriFlux data portal was provided by the US Department of Energy Office of Science.
Author contributions: Conceptualization: A.C., W.R.L.A. Methodology: A.C., W.R.L.A., S.A.K. Data contributions: All co-authors. Investigation: A.C., W.R.L.A., S.A.K. Visualization: A.C. Funding acquisition: W.R.L.A. Writing–original draft: A.C., W.R.L.A., S.A.K. Writing–review and editing: All co-authors.
Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Data and materials availability: All processed data used for the analyses are available on Dryad (DOI: 10.5061/dryad.15dv41nzt) and the code is available on Zenodo (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.6033963).



School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
Altaf Arain
McMaster Centre for Climate Change, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada.
School of Earth, Environment and Society, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada.
School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS, AgroParisTech, Ecologie Systématique et Evolution, 91405 Orsay, France.
Institut Universitaire de France, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France.
DISTAL, Alma Mater Studiorum, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.
Department of Geography, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA.
Shawn McKenzie
McMaster Centre for Climate Change, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada.
School of Earth, Environment and Society, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada.
Frederick C. Meinzer
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, OR, USA.
School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
Centre d’étude de la forêt, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, Quebec H3C 3P8, Canada.
Département Science et Technologie, Téluq, Université du Québec, Bureau 1105, Montréal, Quebec H2S 3L5, Canada.
Adrian V. Rocha
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA.
Geology Institute, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Coyoacán, CDMX, Mexico.
Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University, 1-1 Gakuen-cho, Naka-ku, Sakai 599-8531, Japan.
Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA.
Earth and Life Institute, Université Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
Steven L. Voelker
College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, USA.
Department of Ecology, W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences, 31-512 Kraków, Poland.
David Woodruff
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, OR, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

Funding Information

US National Science Foundation: 1714972, 1802880, 2044937, and 2003017
David and Lucille Packard Foundation
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science
Arctic Challenge for Sustainability II: ArCS II; JPMXD1420318865
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Programme, Ecosystem Services and Agro-Ecosystem Management: 2018-67019-27850
US National Science Foundation Ecosystem Science cluster: 1753845
USDA Forest Service Forest Health Protection Evaluation Monitoring program: 19-05
DOE Environmental System Science: DOE DE-SC0022052
NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences: 1241851
DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research: DE-SC0010611
US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Program: 20176701326191


*Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]

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