University Of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

Partitioning direct and indirect effects reveals the response of water-limited ecosystems to elevated CO2

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 00:54 authored by Fatichi, S, Leuzinger, S, Paschalis, A, Langley, JA, Barraclough, AD, Mark HovendenMark Hovenden
Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are expected to affect carbon assimilation and evapotranspiration (ET), ultimately driving changes in plant growth, hydrology, and the global carbon balance. Direct leaf biochemical effects have been widely investigated, whereas indirect effects, although documented, elude explicit quantification in experiments. Here, we used a mechanistic model to investigate the relative contributions of direct (through carbon assimilation) and indirect (via soil moisture savings due to stomatal closure, and changes in leaf area index) effects of elevated CO2 across a variety of ecosystems. We specifically determined which ecosystems and climatic conditions maximize the indirect effects of elevated CO2 The simulations suggest that the indirect effects of elevated CO2 on net primary productivity are large and variable, ranging from less than 10% to more than 100% of the size of direct effects. For ET, indirect effects were, on average, 65% of the size of direct effects. Indirect effects tended to be considerably larger in water-limited ecosystems. As a consequence, the total CO2 effect had a significant, inverse relationship with the wetness index and was directly related to vapor pressure deficit. These results have major implications for our understanding of the CO2 response of ecosystems and for global projections of CO2 fertilization, because, although direct effects are typically understood and easily reproducible in models, simulations of indirect effects are far more challenging and difficult to constrain. Our findings also provide an explanation for the discrepancies between experiments in the total CO2 effect on net primary productivity.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America










School of Natural Sciences


Natl Acad Sciences

Place of publication

2101 Constitution Ave Nw, Washington, USA, Dc, 20418

Rights statement

Copyright 2016 PNAS

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the environmental sciences