Using research networks to create the comprehensive datasets needed to assess nutrient availability as a key determinant of terrestrial carbon cycling


Abstract A wide range of research shows that nutrient availability strongly influences terrestrial carbon (C) cycling and shapes ecosystem responses to environmental changes and hence terrestrial feedbacks to climate. Nonetheless, our understanding of nutrient controls remains far from complete and poorly quantified, at least partly due to a lack of informative, comparable, and accessible datasets at regional-to-global scales. A growing research infrastructure of multi-site networks are providing valuable data on C fluxes and stocks and are monitoring their responses to global environmental change and measuring responses to experimental treatments. These networks thus provide an opportunity for improving our understanding of C-nutrient cycle interactions and our ability to model them. However, coherent information on how nutrient cycling interacts with observed C cycle patterns is still generally lacking. Here, we argue that complementing available C-cycle measurements from monitoring and experimental sites with data characterizing nutrient availability will greatly enhance their power and will improve our capacity to forecast future trajectories of terrestrial C cycling and climate. Therefore, we propose a set of complementary measurements that are relatively easy to conduct routinely at any site or experiment and that, in combination with C cycle observations, can provide a robust characterization of the effects of nutrient availability across sites. In addition, we discuss the power of different observable variables for informing the formulation of models and constraining their predictions. Most widely available measurements of nutrient availability often do not align well with current modelling needs. This highlights the importance to foster the interaction between the empirical and modelling communities for setting future research priorities.

Environmental Research Letters