The Earth is getting warmer. In warmer climes, decomposition occurs more quickly. This releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, leading to further warming. But it needn’t get completely out of control–trees (and other plants) can come to the rescue!
A recent study in a central Massachusetts forest has shown that increased temperatures do indeed lead to increased decomposition. But they also led to increased tree growth, partially offsetting the carbon dioxide release from decomposition. Why? The researchers found that nitrogen was also being liberated by the decomposition.
Because tree growth is limited by the availability of nitrogen, an increased supply of nitrogen results in increased growth. The trees’ growth spurts result in some of the carbon dioxide being stored in the wood rather than being released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the trees don’t take in ALL of the released carbon dioxide… trees to the (partial) rescue!