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Tropical rainforests show phosphorus key to understanding world’s ecosystems

A new international study led by Western Sydney University researchers has quantified phosphorus constraints to photosynthesis in tropical forests, highlighting how accounting for this constraint can improve the world’s climate.

Tropical forests have an important role in the carbon cycle, absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than any other ecosystem, and acting as key modulators of the global climate.

Despite being hotspots for biodiversity and range among the most productive ecosystems on the planet, they typically lack phosphorus – a major plant nutrient – which limits photosynthesis.

As part of the study published in Nature Communication, the research team performed the most comprehensive analysis to date across 12 different countries and took nearly 18,000 measurements to understand the link between phosphorus and photosynthesis.

Lead author Professor David Ellsworth from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment said the study reinforces that the higher the concentration of phosphorus in leaves, the higher their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

“For the first time, the analysis has established that phosphorus is a considerable constraint on the photosynthetic capacity of leaves worldwide,” said Professor Ellsworth.


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