Will soils limit future forest growth?

Tropical trees could be tempted to grow faster in a future world of higher CO2, but that could be limited by the ground they stand on. Soils in the tropics are generally nutrient-depleted, with the lack of phosphorus often being the most serious deficiency. "There’s a strong possibility that soil nutrients will constrain the response of tropical forests to rising atmospheric CO2," says Ben Turner, a soils expert at STRI.

Soils also contain several times more carbon than vegetation and the atmosphere combined, says Turner, who is one of a number of STRI co-authors on a paper about tropical forest response to rising atmospheric carbon. "Even small changes in soil carbon could have a comparatively big influence on the atmosphere, so there are also important questions about what is going to happen to soil carbon as atmospheric CO2 continues to increase," he says.

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Asner Wright Hall Muller Winter Potvin
Turner Detto Hubell Rubinoff Davies