A Novel Representation of Terrestrial Nitrogen Cycling and Biological Nitrogen Fixation in GFDL-LM4.1

Publication Year


Journal Article

Representing biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is an important challenge for coupled carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) land models. Initial representations of BNF in land models applied simplified phenomenological relationships. More recent representations of BNF are mechanistic and include the dynamic response of symbiotic BNF to N limitation of plant growth. However, they generally do not include the competitive dynamics between N-fixing and non-fixing plants, which is a key ecological mechanism that determines ecosystem-scale symbiotic BNF. Furthermore, asymbiotic BNF is generally not included in land models. Here, we present LM4.1-BNF, a novel representation of BNF (asymbiotic and symbiotic) and an updated representation of N cycling in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Land Model 4.1 (LM4.1). LM4.1-BNF incorporates a mechanistic representation of asymbiotic BNF by soil microbes, a representation of the competitive dynamics between N-fixing and non-fixing plants, and distinct asymbiotic and symbiotic BNF temperature responses derived from corresponding observations. LM4.1-BNF makes reasonable estimations of major carbon (C) and N pools and fluxes and their temporal dynamics, in comparison to the previous version of LM4.1 with N cycling (LM3-SNAP) and to previous representations of BNF in land models generally (phenomenological representations and those without competitive dynamics between N-fixing and non-fixing plants and/or asymbiotic BNF) at a temperate forest site. LM4.1-BNF effectively reproduces asymbiotic BNF rate (13 kgNha1yr1) in comparison to observations (11 kgNha1yr1). LM4.1-BNF effectively reproduces the temporal dynamics of symbiotic BNF rate: LM4.1-BNF simulates a symbiotic BNF pulse in early succession that reaches 73 kgNha1yr1 at 15 years and then declines to ∼0kgNha1yr1 at 300 years, similarly to observed symbiotic BNF, which reaches 75 kgNha1yr1 at 17 years and then declines to ∼0kgNha1yr1 in late successional forests. As such, LM4.1-BNF can be applied to project the dynamic response of vegetation to N limitation of plant growth and the degree to which this will constrain the terrestrial C sink under elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration and other global change factors.

Date Published
July 2021
Full text