Materially closed, energetically open biological systems continuously and simultaneously allow the two-way feedback loop between the biotic and abiotic components to take place, but so far have not been used to their full potential in ecological research, owing to the challenge of achieving sustainable model systems.

This article shows that using materially closed soil–vegetation–atmosphere systems with pro rata carbon amounts for the main terrestrial carbon pools enables the establishment of conditions that balance plant carbon assimilation, and autotrophic and heterotrophic respiration fluxes over periods suitable to investigate short-term biotic carbon feedbacks.

Using this approach, the authors tested an alternative way of assessing the impact of increased CO2 and temperature on biotic carbon feedbacks. The results show that without nutrient and water limitations, the short-term biotic responses could potentially buffer a temperature increase of 2.3 °C without significant positive feedbacks to atmospheric CO2.

The authors argue that such closed-system research represents an important test-bed platform for model validation and parameterization of plant and soil biotic responses to environmental changes.

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