Assessments of carbon (C) fluxes in the Arctic require detailed data on both how and why these fluxes vary across the landscape. Such assessments are complicated because tundra vegetation has diverse structure and function at both local and regional scales. To investigate this diversity, the Arctic Flux Study has used the eddy covariance technique to generate ecosystem CO2-exchange data along a transect in northern Alaska. We use an extant process-based model of the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum to make independent predictions of gross photosynthesis and foliar respiration at 9 of the sites along the transect, using data on local canopy structure and meteorology. We make two key assumptions: (i) soil respiration is constant throughout the flux measurement period, so that the diurnal cycle in CO2 exchange is driven by canopy processes only (except at two sites where a soil respiration–temperature relationship was indicated in the data); and (ii) mosses and lichens play an insignificant role in ecosystem C exchange, even though in some locations their live biomass exceeds 300 g m−2. We found that even with these assumptions the model could explain much of the dynamics of net ecosystem production (NEP) at sites with widely differing vegetation structure and moss/lichen cover. Errors were mostly associated with the predictions of maximum NEP; the likely cause of such discrepancies was (i) a mismatch between vegetation sampled for characterizing the canopy structure and that contained within the footprint of the eddy covariance flux measurements, or (ii) an increase in daytime soil and root respiration. Thus the model results tended to falsify our first assumption but not our second. We also note evidence for an actual reduction in NEP caused by water stress on warm, dry days at some sites. The model–flux comparison also suggests that photosynthesis may be less sensitive to low temperatures than leaf-level gas-exchange measurements have indicated.