Carbon cost of plant nitrogen acquisition: A mechanistic, globally applicable model of plant nitrogen uptake, retranslocation, and fixation

  • Fisher J
  • Sitch S
  • Malhi Y
 et al. 
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Nitrogen (N) generally limits plant growth and controls biosphere responses to climate change. We introduce a new mathematical model of plant N acquisition, called Fixation and Uptake of Nitrogen (FUN), based on active and passive soil N uptake, leaf N retranslocation, and biological N fixation. This model is unified under the theoretical framework of carbon (C) cost economics, or resource optimization. FUN specifies C allocated to N acquisition as well as remaining C for growth, or N-limitation to growth. We test the model with data from a wide range of sites (observed versus predicted N uptake r2 is 0.89, and RMSE is 0.003 kg N m−2·yr−1). Four model tests are performed: (1) fixers versus nonfixers under primary succession; (2) response to N fertilization; (3) response to CO2 fertilization; and (4) changes in vegetation C from potential soil N trajectories for five DGVMs (HYLAND, LPJ, ORCHIDEE, SDGVM, and TRIFFID) under four IPCC scenarios. Nonfixers surpass the productivity of fixers after ∼150–180 years in this scenario. FUN replicates the N uptake response in the experimental N fertilization from a modeled N fertilization. However, FUN cannot replicate the N uptake response in the experimental CO2 fertilization from a modeled CO2 fertilization; nonetheless, the correct response is obtained when differences in root biomass are included. Finally, N-limitation decreases biomass by 50 Pg C on average globally for the DGVMs. We propose this model as being suitable for inclusion in the new generation of Earth system models that aim to describe the global N cycle.

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  • J. B. Fisher

  • S. Sitch

  • Y. Malhi

  • R. A. Fisher

  • C. Huntingford

  • S.-Y. Tan

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