skip to main content

Title: What Limits Predictive Certainty of Long‐Term Carbon Uptake?

Terrestrial biosphere models can help identify physical processes that control carbon dynamics, including land‐atmosphere CO2fluxes, and have the potential to project the terrestrial ecosystem response to changing climate. It is important to identify ecosystem processes most responsible for model predictive uncertainty and design improved model representation and observational system studies to reduce that uncertainty. Here we identified model parameters that contribute the most uncertainty to long‐term (~100 years) projections of net ecosystem exchange, net primary production, and aboveground biomass within a mechanistic terrestrial biosphere model (Ecosystem Demography, version 2.1) ED2. An uncertainty analysis identified parameters that represent the quantum efficiency of light to photosynthetic conversion, leaf respiration and soil‐plant water transfer as the highest contributors to model uncertainty regardless of time frame (annual, decadal, and centennial) and output (e.g., net ecosystem exchange, net primary production, aboveground biomass). Contrary to expectations, the contribution of successional processes related to reproduction, competition, and mortality did not increase as the time scale increased. These findings suggest that uncertainty in the parameters governing short‐term ecosystem processes remains the most significant bottleneck to reducing predictive uncertainty. Key actions to reduce parameter uncertainty include more leaf‐level trait measurements across multiple sites for quantum efficiency and leaf respiration rate. Further, the empirical representation of soil‐plant water transfer should be replaced with a mechanistic, hydraulic representation of water flow, which can be constrained with direct measurements. This analysis focused on aboveground ecosystem processes. The impact of belowground carbon cycling, initial conditions, and meteorological forcing should be addressed in future studies.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 3570-3588
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. As the Arctic region moves into uncharted territory under a warming climate, it is important to refine the terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs) that help us understand and predict change. One fundamental uncertainty in TBMs relates to model parameters, configuration variables internal to the model whose value can be estimated from data. We incorporate a version of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM) developed for arctic ecosystems into the Predictive Ecosystem Analyzer (PEcAn) framework. PEcAn treats model parameters as probability distributions, estimates parameters based on a synthesis of available field data, and then quantifies both model sensitivity and uncertainty to a given parameter or suite of parameters. We examined how variation in 21 parameters in the equation for gross primary production influenced model sensitivity and uncertainty in terms of two carbon fluxes (net primary productivity and heterotrophic respiration) and two carbon (C) pools (vegetation C and soil C). We set up different parameterizations of TEM across a range of tundra types (tussock tundra, heath tundra, wet sedge tundra, and shrub tundra) in northern Alaska, along a latitudinal transect extending from the coastal plain near Utqiaġvik to the southern foothills of the Brooks Range, to the Seward Peninsula. TEM was most sensitive to parameters related to the temperature regulation of photosynthesis. Model uncertainty was mostly due to parameters related to leaf area, temperature regulation of photosynthesis, and the stomatal responses to ambient light conditions. Our analysis also showed that sensitivity and uncertainty to a given parameter varied spatially. At some sites, model sensitivity and uncertainty tended to be connected to a wider range of parameters, underlining the importance of assessing tundra community processes across environmental gradients or geographic locations. Generally, across sites, the flux of net primary productivity (NPP) and pool of vegetation C had about equal uncertainty, while heterotrophic respiration had higher uncertainty than the pool of soil C. Our study illustrates the complexity inherent in evaluating parameter uncertainty across highly heterogeneous arctic tundra plant communities. It also provides a framework for iteratively testing how newly collected field data related to key parameters may result in more effective forecasting of Arctic change. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Imaging spectroscopy provides the opportunity to incorporate leaf and canopy optical data into ecological studies, but the extent to which remote sensing of vegetation can enhance the study of belowground processes is not well understood. In terrestrial systems, aboveground and belowground vegetation quantity and quality are coupled, and both influence belowground microbial processes and nutrient cycling. We hypothesized that ecosystem productivity, and the chemical, structural and phylogenetic‐functional composition of plant communities would be detectable with remote sensing and could be used to predict belowground plant and soil processes in two grassland biodiversity experiments: the BioDIV experiment at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Minnesota and the Wood River Nature Conservancy experiment in Nebraska. We tested whether aboveground vegetation chemistry and productivity, as detected from airborne sensors, predict soil properties, microbial processes and community composition. Imaging spectroscopy data were used to map aboveground biomass, green vegetation cover, functional traits and phylogenetic‐functional community composition of vegetation. We examined the relationships between the image‐derived variables and soil carbon and nitrogen concentration, microbial community composition, biomass and extracellular enzyme activity, and soil processes, including net nitrogen mineralization. In the BioDIV experiment—which has low overall diversity and productivity despite high variation in each—belowground processes were driven mainly by variation in the amount of organic matter inputs to soils. As a consequence, soil respiration, microbial biomass and enzyme activity, and fungal and bacterial composition and diversity were significantly predicted by remotely sensed vegetation cover and biomass. In contrast, at Wood River—where plant diversity and productivity were consistently higher—belowground processes were driven mainly by variation in the quality of aboveground inputs to soils. Consequently, remotely sensed functional, chemical and phylogenetic composition of vegetation predicted belowground extracellular enzyme activity, microbial biomass, and net nitrogen mineralization rates but aboveground biomass (or cover) did not. The contrasting associations between the quantity (productivity) and quality (composition) of aboveground inputs with belowground soil attributes provide a basis for using imaging spectroscopy to understand belowground processes across productivity gradients in grassland systems. However, a mechanistic understanding of how above and belowground components interact among different ecosystems remains critical to extending these results broadly.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract. The terrestrial carbon cycle plays a critical role in modulating the interactions of climate with the Earth system, but different models often make vastly different predictions of its behavior. Efforts to reduce model uncertainty have commonly focused on model structure, namely by introducing additional processes and increasing structural complexity. However, the extent to which increased structural complexity can directly improve predictive skill is unclear. While adding processes may improve realism, the resulting models are often encumbered by a greater number of poorly determined or over-generalized parameters. To guide efficient model development, here we map the theoretical relationship between model complexity and predictive skill. To do so, we developed 16 structurally distinct carbon cycle models spanning an axis of complexity and incorporated them into a model–data fusion system. We calibrated each model at six globally distributed eddy covariance sites with long observation time series and under 42 data scenarios that resulted in different degrees of parameter uncertainty. For each combination of site, data scenario, and model, we then predicted net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and leaf area index (LAI) for validation against independent local site data. Though the maximum model complexity we evaluated is lower than most traditional terrestrial biosphere models, the complexity range we explored provides universal insight into the inter-relationship between structural uncertainty, parametric uncertainty, and model forecast skill. Specifically, increased complexity only improves forecast skill if parameters are adequately informed (e.g., when NEE observations are used for calibration). Otherwise, increased complexity can degrade skill and an intermediate-complexity model is optimal. This finding remains consistent regardless of whether NEE or LAI is predicted. Our COMPLexity EXperiment (COMPLEX) highlights the importance of robust observation-based parameterization for land surface modeling and suggests that data characterizing net carbon fluxes will be key to improving decadal predictions of high-dimensional terrestrial biosphere models. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Despite their low contribution to forest carbon stocks, lianas (woody vines) play an important role in the carbon dynamics of tropical forests. As structural parasites, they hinder tree survival, growth and fecundity; hence, they negatively impact net ecosystem productivity and long‐term carbon sequestration.

    Competition (for water and light) drives various forest processes and depends on the local abundance of resources over time. However, evaluating the relative role of resource availability on the interactions between lianas and trees from empirical observations is particularly challenging. Previous approaches have used labour‐intensive and ecosystem‐scale manipulation experiments, which are infeasible in most situations.

    We propose to circumvent this challenge by evaluating the uncertainty of water and light capture processes of a process‐based vegetation model (ED2) including the liana growth form. We further developed the liana plant functional type in ED2 to mechanistically simulate water uptake and transport from roots to leaves, and start the model from prescribed initial conditions. We then used the PEcAn bioinformatics platform to constrain liana parameters and run uncertainty analyses.

    Baseline runs successfully reproduced ecosystem gas exchange fluxes (gross primary productivity and latent heat) and forest structural features (leaf area index, aboveground biomass) in two sites (Barro Colorado Island, Panama and Paracou, French Guiana) characterized by different rainfall regimes and levels of liana abundance.

    Model uncertainty analyses revealed that water limitation was the factor driving the competition between trees and lianas at the drier site (BCI), and during the relatively short dry season of the wetter site (Paracou). In young patches, light competition dominated in Paracou but alternated with water competition between the wet and the dry season on BCI according to the model simulations.

    The modelling workflow also identified key liana traits (photosynthetic quantum efficiency, stomatal regulation parameters, allometric relationships) and processes (water use, respiration, climbing) driving the model uncertainty. They should be considered as priorities for future data acquisition and model development to improve predictions of the carbon dynamics of liana‐infested forests.

    Synthesis. Competition for water plays a larger role in the interaction between lianas and trees than previously hypothesized, as demonstrated by simulations from a process‐based vegetation model.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Plant functional traits provide a link in process‐based vegetation models between plant‐level physiology and ecosystem‐level responses. Recent advances in physiological understanding and computational efficiency have allowed for the incorporation of plant hydraulic processes in large‐scale vegetation models. However, a more mechanistic representation of water limitation that determines ecosystem responses to plant water stress necessitates a re‐evaluation of trait‐based constraints for plant carbon allocation, particularly allocation to leaf area. In this review, we examine model representations of plant allocation to leaves, which is often empirically set by plant functional type‐specific allometric relationships. We analyze the evolution of the representation of leaf allocation in models of different scales and complexities. We show the impacts of leaf allocation strategy on plant carbon uptake in the context of recent advancements in modeling hydraulic processes. Finally, we posit that deriving allometry from first principles using mechanistic hydraulic processes is possible and should become standard practice, rather than using prescribed allometries. The representation of allocation as an emergent property of scarce resource constraints is likely to be critical to representing how global change processes impact future ecosystem dynamics and carbon fluxes and may reduce the number of poorly constrained parameters in vegetation models.

    more » « less