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Synthesizing Bryophyte Functional Response to Environmental Variation to Improve Terrestrial Carbon Cycle Forecasting

Active Dates 9/1/2023-8/31/2025
Program Area Environmental Systems Science
Project Description
Our understanding of current and future drivers of carbon cycling at ecosystem and global scales relies on the ability of Earth system models to accurately represent plant-environment interactions and feedbacks. While there is strong fundamental knowledge about how plant processes influence carbon cycling for many plant functional types, land surface models that inform Earth system models currently are unable to accurately characterize plant responses to environmental variability, especially dynamic and intra-annual responses to moisture availability. One group of plants that has a nearly ubiquitous terrestrial presence (found on all Earth’s continents) but has remained unrepresented in Earth system models is bryophytes (mosses and their relatives). Bryophytes regulate carbon cycling, storage, and biogeochemical responses to global change across many ecosystem types, and respond to precipitation in ways that are incredibly dynamic and functionally distinct from vascular plants. For these reasons, inclusion of a bryophyte plant functional type could dramatically improve carbon cycle forecasting. Due to increased recognition of the functional roles of bryophytes, much empirical data on bryophyte-carbon cycling processes now exist, but have yet to be synthesized to allow for parameterization and evaluation of a bryophyte plant functional type.

To improve the predictive understanding of how carbon cycling is influenced by hydrology and is responding to climate change, as well as to simultaneously advance our capacity to forecast carbon cycling contributions of bryophytes, we will conduct a global synthesis of bryophyte-carbon cycling processes, their drivers, and their responses to change. We will (1) leverage existing datasets to generate a database of bryophyte processes that relate to carbon cycling; and (2) elucidate, analyze, and test key relationships between bryophyte functional processes and environmental variables suitable for inclusion into Earth system models and development of a novel bryophyte plant functional type. To accomplish these aims, we will select focal plant process functions in the land surface model of the Energy Exascale Earth system model (E3SM), collect data from published literature and long-term experiments to build a bryophyte database, and conduct a meta analysis to determine statistical relationships between bryophyte parameters and function outputs. Based on these analyses, we will develop empirical relationships for bryophyte-carbon cycling by modifying parameters in existing E3SM functions and by developing novel functions for processes important for carbon cycling but unique to bryophytes and not yet represented in models. We will test and evaluate empirical relationships that can be used to predict or constrain bryophyte plant functional type traits, ultimately resulting in a complete set of functional relationships representing bryophyte-carbon cycling processes.

This project brings together researchers from plant ecology, biogeochemistry, and modeling disciplines in an iterative bi-directional modeler-empiricist collaboration to generate, evaluate, and calibrate model-relevant plant-environment relationships for a currently unrepresented category of terrestrial plants: bryophytes. The outcomes of this project will be (1) advanced capacity to forecast carbon cycling contributions of bryophytes, a globally important plant functional type; and (2) expanded predictive understanding of how carbon cycling is influenced by hydrology and responding to climate change.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Middlebury College (PI: Coe, Kirsten)
  • US Geological Survey (PI: Reed, Sasha)