Gross primary production responses to warming, elevated CO2, and irrigation: quantifying the drivers of ecosystem physiology in a semiarid grassland

Edmund M. Ryan*, Kiona Ogle, Drew Peltier, Anthony P. Walker, Martin G. De Kauwe, Belinda E. Medlyn, David G. Williams, William Parton, Shinichi Asao, Bertrand Guenet, Anna B. Harper, Xingjie Lu, Kristina A. Luus, Sönke Zaehle, Shijie Shu, Christian Werner, Jianyang Xia, Elise Pendall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Determining whether the terrestrial biosphere will be a source or sink of carbon (C) under a future climate of elevated CO2 (eCO2) and warming requires accurate quantification of gross primary production (GPP), the largest flux of C in the global C cycle. We evaluated 6 years (2007–2012) of flux-derived GPP data from the Prairie Heating and CO2 Enrichment (PHACE) experiment, situated in a grassland in Wyoming, USA. The GPP data were used to calibrate a light response model whose basic formulation has been successfully used in a variety of ecosystems. The model was extended by modeling maximum photosynthetic rate (Amax) and light-use efficiency (Q) as functions of soil water, air temperature, vapor pressure deficit, vegetation greenness, and nitrogen at current and antecedent (past) timescales. The model fits the observed GPP well (R2 = 0.79), which was confirmed by other model performance checks that compared different variants of the model (e.g. with and without antecedent effects). Stimulation of cumulative 6-year GPP by warming (29%, P = 0.02) and eCO2 (26%, P = 0.07) was primarily driven by enhanced C uptake during spring (129%, P = 0.001) and fall (124%, P = 0.001), respectively, which was consistent across years. Antecedent air temperature (Tairant) and vapor pressure deficit (VPDant) effects on Amax (over the past 3–4 days and 1–3 days, respectively) were the most significant predictors of temporal variability in GPP among most treatments. The importance of VPDant suggests that atmospheric drought is important for predicting GPP under current and future climate; we highlight the need for experimental studies to identify the mechanisms underlying such antecedent effects. Finally, posterior estimates of cumulative GPP under control and eCO2 treatments were tested as a benchmark against 12 terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs). The narrow uncertainties of these data-driven GPP estimates suggest that they could be useful semi-independent data streams for validating TBMs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3092-3106
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number8
Early online date22 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service Climate Change, Soils & Emissions Program, USDA-CSREES Soil Processes Program (#2008-35107-18655), US Department of Energy Office of Science (BER), through the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science program (#DE-SC0006973), and the Western Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research, and by the National Science Foundation (DEB#1021559). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank D. LeCain, J.A. Morgan, J. Heisler-White, A. Brennan, S. Bachman, Y. Sorokin, T.J. Zelikova, D. Blumenthal, K. Mueller, and numerous others for assistance in data collection and operation of PHACE facilities, and B. Yang for use of his gap-filled meteorological data at the site. We also thank D. Kinsman for his helpful comments on the discussion section.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Bayesian modeling
  • carbon cycle
  • elevated CO
  • grasslands
  • gross primary production
  • multifactor global change experiment
  • warming


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