BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide accelerate carbon cycling and soil carbon loss in forests, new research led by an Indiana University biologist has found.
The new evidence supports an emerging view that although forests remove a substantial amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, much of the carbon is being stored in living woody biomass rather than as dead organic matter in soils.
Richard P. Phillips, lead author on the paper and an assistant professor of biology in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, said that after nearly two decades of research on forest ecosystem responses to global change, some of the uncertainty has been lifted about how forests are storing carbon in the wake of rising carbon dioxide levels.
"It's been suggested that as trees take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a greater amount of carbon will go to roots and fungi to acquire nutrients, but our results show that little of this carbon accumulates in soil because the decomposition of root and fungal detritus is also increased," he said.
Carbon stored in soils, as opposed to in the wood of trees, is desirable from a management perspective in that soils are more stable over time, so carbon can be locked away for hundreds to thousands of years and not contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide increases.
The research was conducted at the Duke Forest Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment site in North Carolina. At this site, mature loblolly pine trees were exposed to increased levels of carbon dioxide for 14 years, making it one of the longest-running carbon dioxide enrichment experiments in the world. Researchers were able to calculate the age of the carbon cycling through the soil by growing roots and fungi into mesh bags that contained uniquely labeled soils. The soils were then analyzed for their organic composition.
The authors also report that nitrogen cycled faster in this forest as the demand for nutrients
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