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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 3 | Copyright
Biogeosciences, 15, 693-702, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-693-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 02 Feb 2018

Research article | 02 Feb 2018

Variations and determinants of carbon content in plants: a global synthesis

Suhui Ma1, Feng He2, Di Tian3, Dongting Zou1, Zhengbing Yan1, Yulong Yang4, Tiancheng Zhou4, Kaiyue Huang4, Haihua Shen5, and Jingyun Fang1 Suhui Ma et al.
  • 1Department of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • 2College of Life Sciences, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 3College of Life Sciences, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100048, China
  • 4College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 5State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China

Abstract. Plant carbon (C) content is one of the most important plant traits and is critical to the assessment of global C cycle and ecological stoichiometry; however, the global variations in plant C content remain poorly understood. In this study, we conducted a global analysis of the plant C content by synthesizing data from 4318 species to document specific values and their variation of the C content across plant organs and life forms. Plant organ C contents ranged from 45.0% in reproductive organs to 47.9% in stems at global scales, which were significantly lower than the widely employed canonical value of 50%. Plant C content in leaves (global mean of 46.9%) was higher than that in roots (45.6%). Across life forms, woody plants exhibited higher C content than herbaceous plants. Conifers, relative to broad-leaved woody species, had higher C content in roots, leaves, and stems. Plant C content tended to show a decrease with increasing latitude. The life form explained more variation of the C content than climate. Our findings suggest that specific C content values of different organs and life forms developed in our study should be incorporated into the estimations of regional and global vegetation biomass C stocks.

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Plant carbon (C) content is critical to the assessment of the global C cycle. Our results showed that the global average C contents in organs were significantly lower than a canonical value of 50 %. Plant C content tended to decrease with increasing latitude, and life form explained more variation than climate. Our findings suggest that specific C content values of different organs and life forms should be incorporated into the estimations of regional and global vegetation biomass C stocks.
Plant carbon (C) content is critical to the assessment of the global C cycle. Our results showed...
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