Global-scale impacts of nitrogen deposition on tree carbon sequestration in tropical, temperate, and boreal forests: A meta-analysis

Lena Schulte-Uebbing*, Wim de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

169 Citations (Scopus)


Elevated nitrogen (N) deposition may increase net primary productivity in N-limited terrestrial ecosystems and thus enhance the terrestrial carbon (C) sink. To assess the magnitude of this N-induced C sink, we performed a meta-analysis on data from forest fertilization experiments to estimate N-induced C sequestration in aboveground tree woody biomass, a stable C pool with long turnover times. Our results show that boreal and temperate forests responded strongly to N addition and sequestered on average an additional 14 and 13 kg C per kg N in aboveground woody biomass, respectively. Tropical forests, however, did not respond significantly to N addition. The common hypothesis that tropical forests do not respond to N because they are phosphorus-limited could not be confirmed, as we found no significant response to phosphorus addition in tropical forests. Across climate zones, we found that young forests responded more strongly to N addition, which is important as many previous meta-analyses of N addition experiments rely heavily on data from experiments on seedlings and young trees. Furthermore, the C-N response (defined as additional mass unit of C sequestered per additional mass unit of N addition) was affected by forest productivity, experimental N addition rate, and rate of ambient N deposition. The estimated C-N responses from our meta-analysis were generally lower that those derived with stoichiometric scaling, dynamic global vegetation models, and forest growth inventories along N deposition gradients. We estimated N-induced global C sequestration in tree aboveground woody biomass by multiplying the C-N responses obtained from the meta-analysis with N deposition estimates per biome. We thus derived an N-induced global C sink of about 177 (112-243) Tg C/year in aboveground and belowground woody biomass, which would account for about 12% of the forest biomass C sink (1,400 Tg C/year).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e416-e431
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Early online date16 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • C-N response
  • Fertilization experiments
  • Forest carbon sink
  • Meta-analysis
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Woody biomass


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