As plants grow they take in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. As CO2 concentrations in the air rise due to human-caused emissions, researchers have suggested that plants will be able to grow larger, and therefore take in more CO2.
However, plant growth is not only due to CO2 concentrations, but relies on the availability of nutrients in the soil, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. If the plants can’t get enough nutrients, they will not grow more despite higher CO2 concentrations.
Researchers of Stanford University, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Imperial College London have now mapped the potential of today’s plants and trees to store extra carbon by the end of the century by analysing 138 experiments.
Lead author dr César Terrer of Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, said: “Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the best way to limit further warming. But stopping deforestation and preserving forests so they can grow more is our next-best solution.”