, Volume 9, Issue 7, pp 1041–1050

Reconciling Carbon-cycle Concepts, Terminology, and Methods


    • Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of Alaska–Fairbanks
  • G. M. Woodwell
    • The Woods Hole Research Center
  • J. T. Randerson
    • Department of Earth System ScienceUniversity of California
  • E. B. Rastetter
    • The Ecosystem CenterMarine Biological Laboratory
  • G. M. Lovett
    • Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • D. D. Baldocchi
    • Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of California
  • D. A. Clark
    • Department of BiologyUniversity of Missouri
  • M. E. Harmon
    • Department of Forest ScienceOregon State University
  • D. S. Schimel
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • R. Valentini
    • Department of Forest Science and EnvironmentUniversity of Tuscia
  • C. Wirth
    • Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • J. D. Aber
    • Complex Systems Research CenterUniversity of New Hampshire
  • J. J. Cole
    • Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • M. L. Goulden
    • Department of Earth System ScienceUniversity of California
  • J. W. Harden
    • US Geological Survey
  • M. Heimann
    • Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • R. W. Howarth
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell University
  • P. A. Matson
    • Department of Geological and Environmental SciencesStanford University
  • A. D. McGuire
    • US Geological Survey, Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitUniversity of Alaska–Fairbanks
  • J. M. Melillo
    • The Ecosystem CenterMarine Biological Laboratory
  • H. A. Mooney
    • Department of Biological SciencesStanford University
  • J. C. Neff
    • Geological Sciences and Environmental StudiesUniversity of Colorado
  • R. A. Houghton
    • The Woods Hole Research Center
  • M. L. Pace
    • Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • M. G. Ryan
    • Geological Sciences and Environmental StudiesUniversity of Colorado
  • S. W. Running
    • Rocky Mountain Research StationUSDA Forest Service
  • O. E. Sala
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown University
  • W. H. Schlesinger
    • Nicholas School of the Environment and EarthDuke University
  • E.-D. Schulze
    • Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry

DOI: 10.1007/s10021-005-0105-7

Cite this article as:
Chapin, F.S., Woodwell, G.M., Randerson, J.T. et al. Ecosystems (2006) 9: 1041. doi:10.1007/s10021-005-0105-7


Recent projections of climatic change have focused a great deal of scientific and public attention on patterns of carbon (C) cycling as well as its controls, particularly the factors that determine whether an ecosystem is a net source or sink of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Net ecosystem production (NEP), a central concept in C-cycling research, has been used by scientists to represent two different concepts. We propose that NEP be restricted to just one of its two original definitions—the imbalance between gross primary production (GPP) and ecosystem respiration (ER). We further propose that a new term—net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB)—be applied to the net rate of C accumulation in (or loss from [negative sign]) ecosystems. Net ecosystem carbon balance differs from NEP when C fluxes other than C fixation and respiration occur, or when inorganic C enters or leaves in dissolved form. These fluxes include the leaching loss or lateral transfer of C from the ecosystem; the emission of volatile organic C, methane, and carbon monoxide; and the release of soot and CO2 from fire. Carbon fluxes in addition to NEP are particularly important determinants of NECB over long time scales. However, even over short time scales, they are important in ecosystems such as streams, estuaries, wetlands, and cities. Recent technological advances have led to a diversity of approaches to the measurement of C fluxes at different temporal and spatial scales. These approaches frequently capture different components of NEP or NECB and can therefore be compared across scales only by carefully specifying the fluxes included in the measurements. By explicitly identifying the fluxes that comprise NECB and other components of the C cycle, such as net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and net biome production (NBP), we can provide a less ambiguous framework for understanding and communicating recent changes in the global C cycle.


net ecosystem productionnet ecosystem carbon balancegross primary productionecosystem respirationautotrophic respirationheterotrophic respirationnet ecosystem exchangenet biome productionnet primary production

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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006