Model Analysis of the effects of historic CO2 levels and nitrogen inputs on vegetation succession

H. van Oene, F. Berendse, C.G.F. de Kovel

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Simulation models are useful to analyze and predict the effects of changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration and N deposition on terrestrial ecosystems. The effects of such abiotic changes on ecosystem variables such as nitrogen mineralization and carbon accumulation can affect plant species composition, which in turn may affect various ecosystem processes. However, these interacting effects of plant species composition on ecosystem processes and vice versa are often not included in simulation models. In this paper, a model is developed that includes both plant competition and the flows of nutrients, carbon, and water through the ecosystem. Direct effects of changing atmospheric CO2 on biomass, plant nitrogen concentrations, and litter quantity and quality are simulated together with indirect effects through changes in plant species composition. This model is validated against data from a primary succession chronosequence sere of Dutch inland dunes. For this validation, historical N deposition and atmospheric CO2 concentration records are used. Simulated plant species biomass, organic matter C and N, and total C and N accumulation were found to correspond to measured data. The model simulated plant species replacement well at the different sites of the chronosequence even though the historic conditions differed much between the sites. Additional analyses of the effect of N deposition (preindustrial to present-day) and elevated CO2 (preindustrial to present-day) in this ecosystem showed that N deposition had a strong effect both on vegetation development and on C and N accumulation. Compared to this, the stimulating effects of elevated CO2 on vegetation development were relatively small. Elevated CO2 affected early vegetation development, but the long-term response of vegetation development is dependent on N availability. In old mature forest, N deposition had only small effects while elevated CO2 delayed forest aging. Indirect effects of CO2 on C and N accumulation through changing plant competitive relations may ultimately be larger than direct CO2 effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)920-935
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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