Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 15, issue 19
Biogeosciences, 15, 5929-5949, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-5929-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 15, 5929-5949, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-5929-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Reviews and syntheses 09 Oct 2018

Reviews and syntheses | 09 Oct 2018

Reviews and syntheses: Carbon use efficiency from organisms to ecosystems – definitions, theories, and empirical evidence

Stefano Manzoni1,2, Petr Čapek3, Philipp Porada4, Martin Thurner2,5, Mattias Winterdahl6, Christian Beer2,5, Volker Brüchert7, Jan Frouz8, Anke M. Herrmann9, Björn D. Lindahl9, Steve W. Lyon1,2, Hana Šantrůčková10, Giulia Vico11, and Danielle Way12,13 Stefano Manzoni et al.
  • 1Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden
  • 2Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden
  • 3Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA
  • 4Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany
  • 5Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden
  • 6Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 7Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 106 91, Sweden
  • 8CUNI Institute for Environmental Studies, Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic
  • 9Department of Soil and Environment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 750 07, Sweden
  • 10Department of Ecosystem Biology, University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice, Czech Republic
  • 11Department of Crop Production Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 750 07, Sweden
  • 12Department of Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
  • 13Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

Abstract. The cycling of carbon (C) between the Earth surface and the atmosphere is controlled by biological and abiotic processes that regulate C storage in biogeochemical compartments and release to the atmosphere. This partitioning is quantified using various forms of C-use efficiency (CUE) – the ratio of C remaining in a system to C entering that system. Biological CUE is the fraction of C taken up allocated to biosynthesis. In soils and sediments, C storage depends also on abiotic processes, so the term C-storage efficiency (CSE) can be used. Here we first review and reconcile CUE and CSE definitions proposed for autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms and communities, food webs, whole ecosystems and watersheds, and soils and sediments using a common mathematical framework. Second, we identify general CUE patterns; for example, the actual CUE increases with improving growth conditions, and apparent CUE decreases with increasing turnover. We then synthesize >5000CUE estimates showing that CUE decreases with increasing biological and ecological organization – from unicellular to multicellular organisms and from individuals to ecosystems. We conclude that CUE is an emergent property of coupled biological–abiotic systems, and it should be regarded as a flexible and scale-dependent index of the capacity of a given system to effectively retain C.

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Carbon fixed by plants and phytoplankton through photosynthesis is ultimately stored in soils and sediments or released to the atmosphere during decomposition of dead biomass. Carbon-use efficiency is a useful metric to quantify the fate of carbon – higher efficiency means higher storage and lower release to the atmosphere. Here we summarize many definitions of carbon-use efficiency and study how this metric changes from organisms to ecosystems and from terrestrial to aquatic environments.
Carbon fixed by plants and phytoplankton through photosynthesis is ultimately stored in soils...
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