Modelling carbon sources and sinks in terrestrial vegetation

Simone Fatichi*, Christoforos Pappas, Jakob Zscheischler, Sebastian Leuzinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


(Table presented.). Summary: The increase in atmospheric CO2 in the future is one of the most certain projections in environmental sciences. Understanding whether vegetation carbon assimilation, growth, and changes in vegetation carbon stocks are affected by higher atmospheric CO2 and translating this understanding in mechanistic vegetation models is of utmost importance. This is highlighted by inconsistencies between global-scale studies that attribute terrestrial carbon sinks to CO2 stimulation of gross and net primary production on the one hand, and forest inventories, tree-scale studies, and plant physiological evidence showing a much less pronounced CO2 fertilization effect on the other hand. Here, we review how plant carbon sources and sinks are currently described in terrestrial biosphere models. We highlight an uneven representation of complexity between the modelling of photosynthesis and other processes, such as plant respiration, direct carbon sinks, and carbon allocation, largely driven by available observations. Despite a general lack of data on carbon sink dynamics to drive model improvements, ways forward toward a mechanistic representation of plant carbon sinks are discussed, leveraging on results obtained from plant-scale models and on observations geared toward model developments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-668
Number of pages17
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • carbon cycle
  • ecosystem modelling
  • nonstructural carbohydrates
  • photosynthesis
  • plant growth
  • respiration


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