Thermal optimality of net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide and underlying mechanisms

Shuli Niu, Yiqi Luo, Shenfeng Fei, Wenping Yuan, David Schimel, Beverly E. Law, Christof Ammann, M. Altaf Arain, Almut Arneth, Marc Aubinet, Alan Barr, Jason Beringer, Christian Bernhofer, T. Andrew Black, Nina Buchmann, Alessandro Cescatti, Jiquan Chen, Kenneth J. Davis, Ebba Dellwik, Ankur R. DesaiSophia Etzold, Louis Francois, Damiano Gianelle, Bert Gielen, Allen Goldstein, Margriet Groenendijk, Lianhong Gu, Niall Hanan, Carole Helfter, Takashi Hirano, David Y. Hollinger, Mike B. Jones, Gerard Kiely, Thomas E. Kolb, Werner L. Kutsch, Peter Lafleur, David M. Lawrence, Linghao Li, Anders Lindroth, Marcy Litvak, Denis Loustau, Carl Magnus Lund, Michal Marek, Timothy A. Martin, Giorgio Matteucci, Mirco Migliavacca, Leonardo Montagnani, Eddy Moors, J. William Munger, Asko Noormets, Walter Oechel, Janusz Olejnik, Kyaw Tha Paw U, Kim Pilegaard, Serge Rambal, Antonio Raschi, Russell L. Scott, Günther Seufert, Donatella Spano, Paul Stoy, Mark A. Sutton, Andrej Varlagin, Timo Vesala, Ensheng Weng, Georg Wohlfahrt, Bai Yang, Zhongda Zhang, Xuhui Zhou

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It is well established that individual organisms can acclimate and adapt to temperature to optimize their functioning. However, thermal optimization of ecosystems, as an assemblage of organisms, has not been examined at broad spatial and temporal scales. Here, we compiled data from 169 globally distributed sites of eddy covariance and quantified the temperature response functions of net ecosystem exchange (NEE), an ecosystem‐level property, to determine whether NEE shows thermal optimality and to explore the underlying mechanisms. We found that the temperature response of NEE followed a peak curve, with the optimum temperature (corresponding to the maximum magnitude of NEE) being positively correlated with annual mean temperature over years and across sites. Shifts of the optimum temperature of NEE were mostly a result of temperature acclimation of gross primary productivity (upward shift of optimum temperature) rather than changes in the temperature sensitivity of ecosystem respiration. Ecosystem‐level thermal optimality is a newly revealed ecosystem property, presumably reflecting associated evolutionary adaptation of organisms within ecosystems, and has the potential to significantly regulate ecosystem–climate change feedbacks. The thermal optimality of NEE has implications for understanding fundamental properties of ecosystems in changing environments and benchmarking global models.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)775-783
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Climate change
  • Optimum temperature
  • Temperature acclimation
  • Temperature adaptation
  • Thermal optimality

Cite this

Niu, S., Luo, Y., Fei, S., Yuan, W., Schimel, D., Law, B. E., Ammann, C., Altaf Arain, M., Arneth, A., Aubinet, M., Barr, A., Beringer, J., Bernhofer, C., Andrew Black, T., Buchmann, N., Cescatti, A., Chen, J., Davis, K. J., Dellwik, E., ... Zhou, X. (2012). Thermal optimality of net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide and underlying mechanisms. New Phytologist, 194(3), 775-783.