Water scaling of ecosystem carbon cycle feedback to climate warming

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

It has been well established by field experiments that warming stimulates either net ecosystem carbon uptake or release, leading to negative or positive carbon cycle–climate change feedback, respectively. This variation in carbon-climate feedback has been partially attributed to water availability. However, it remains unclear under what conditions water availability enhances or weakens carbon-climate feedback or even changes its direction. Combining a field experiment with a global synthesis, we show that warming stimulates net carbon uptake (negative feedback) under wet conditions, but depresses it (positive feedback) under very dry conditions. This switch in carbon-climate feedback direction arises mainly from scaling effects of warming-induced decreases in soil water content on net ecosystem productivity. This water scaling of warming effects offers generalizable mechanisms not only to help explain varying magnitudes and directions of observed carbon-climate feedback but also to improve model prediction of ecosystem carbon dynamics in response to climate change.