What is carbon-use efficiency (CUE)?

CUE is the fraction of C entering a biological or abiotic system that remains there for a given period of time. In general, high CUE indicates that C is retained in the system, whereas low CUE implies large C losses to the atmosphere. For example, the plant CUE is the fraction of the gross photosynthetic rate that is converted into biomass, and the ecosystem CUE is the fraction of the gross photosynthetic rate remaining in the whole ecosystem. Thus, CUE is a measure of how close the C cycle is.

Why should we care about CUE?

Human societies have always managed the C cycle to increase the production of food and feed. The rate of global C cycling has thus been increased, at a cost of reduced terrestrial C sink and CUE, with negative consequences on soil quality as well. To sustainably manage ecosystems and enhance C accumulation, it is imperative to understand and quantify how CUE varies across scales, from organisms to the whole Earth.

CUE as a scale-dependent emergent property

CUE at scales relevant for our society (watershed to globe) is the result of CUE at smaller scales at which physiological processes responsible for C fixation (producers) and mineralization (decomposers) occur. These cross-scale interactions are mediated by complex chains of biological, physical, and at the larger scales socio-economic processes. These scales are tightly linked so that shifts in CUE at physiological level will cascade on all other scales, with feedbacks on global climate and human society at large.

Focus area overarching goal

The aim of this focus area is to understand the intricate relations across scales that generate patterns in CUE. How does CUE change in response to environmental conditions and climatic changes, and across scales?

This question is addressed by an international working group of biologists, hydrologists, ecologists, and climatologists with expertise in C cycling spanning micron to global scales.


The second workshop on “Carbon‐use efficiency across scales” – it will be June 19th, 2017

A paper connected to and acknowledging the project is now in press. It is a technical paper, useful for other ongoing work: Manzoni S. (2017), Flexible carbon-use efficiency across litter types and during decomposition partly compensates nutrient imbalances – Results from analytical stoichiometric models, Frontiers in Microbiology, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.00661.


Participants Webpages

Stefano Manzoni (coordinator) 
Christian Beer 
Rodrigo Caballero 
Patrick Crill 
Vaughan Hurry 
Björn Lindahl 
Steve Lyon 
Hana Šantrůčková 
Giulia Vico 
Danielle Way  
Mattias Winterdahl 

Bolin Centre for Climate Research
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