Our new study on the fate of carbon in a mature forest under CO2 enrichment was published in Nature today. Led by postdoc Mingkai Jiang, with contributions from 48 co-authors, the study shows that the forest did not sequester additional CO2. The plants photosynthesised more, but the additional carbon taken up was rapidly returned to the atmosphere through plant and soil respiration.
These findings have global implications: models used to project future climate change, and impacts of climate change on plants and ecosystems, currently assume that mature forests will continue to absorb carbon over and above their current levels, acting as carbon sinks. The findings from EucFACE suggest that those sinks may in actual fact be weaker or absent for forests on low-nutrient soils. Without mature forests acting as sinks, we have even less time than we thought to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.