Cross-ecosystem carbon flows have been ignored until now, but they have important global effects.

Flows of carbon between ecosystems:  Scientists at Eawag and Zurich University have synthesised for the first time the amounts of carbon transported between many different ecosystems. According to this global synthesis, spatial flows of carbon can be very large – and their significance has previously been underestimated.

First-author Isabelle Gounand (a postdoc in the Aquatic Ecology department) says: “Some spatial flows are larger than expected. In fact, for certain ecosystems, inputs of carbon from other ecosystems are similar to local fluxes.”

According to Altermatt, “Some of the studies we looked at were highly specific and sometimes also hadn’t attracted much attention.” Now, however, by combining the data in a global synthesis, the scientists were able to generate important new findings: in lakes, rivers and benthic marine ecosystems, the amount of carbon entering from neighbouring ecosystems can be equivalent to that which is locally fixed, respired, or released during decomposition. In forests or grasslands, the situation is different: here, because of the very high primary production occurring in terrestrial ecosystems, local carbon fluxes are two to three orders of magnitude greater than inputs from other ecosystems.

To read more here in the University of Zurich Science Faculty news.

Read the paper here in Nature Communications.

Debra Zuppinger-Dingley