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‘Goodish’ news for climate change models: They don’t account for plants’ nocturnal behavior

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Climate scientists have not been properly accounting for what plants do at night, and that, it turns out, is a mistake. A new study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that plant nutrient uptake in the absence of photosynthesis affects greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

“This is goodish news, with respect to what is currently in the climate models,” said William Riley, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area.

Plants’ ability to take in carbon dioxide is limited by the availability of soil nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. The more abundant nutrients are, the more plants can take advantage of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Microbes in the soil are a factor too because they compete with plants for nutrients.

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Microbes, in fact, play an important role in the carbon cycle, and interactions between plants, soil, and microbes are complex, presenting a challenge to climate scientists. Most climate models assume that plants compete for nutrients in the soil only when they’re demanding it for photosynthesis, and not, for example, at night or in non-growing seasons.

“What most climate models have ignored is this pretty robust observational literature showing plants acquire nitrogen from soil even when they’re not photosynthesizing,” Riley said.

Read full, original article: Improving climate models to account for plant behavior yields ‘goodish’ news

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