Carbon: Nitrogen: Phosphorus stoichiometry in fungi: A meta-analysis

Ji Zhang, James J. Elser

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103 Scopus citations


Surveys of carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus ratios are available now for major groups of biota and for various aquatic and terrestrial biomes. However, while fungi play an important role in nutrient cycling in ecosystems, relatively little is known about their C:N:P stoichiometry and how it varies across taxonomic groups, functional guilds, and environmental conditions. Here we present the first systematic compilation of C:N:P data for fungi including four phyla (Ascomycota, Basidiomycota, Glomeromycota, and Zygomycota). The C, N, and P contents (percent of dry mass) of fungal biomass varied from 38 to 57%, 0.23 to 15%, and 0.040 to 5.5%, respectively. Median C:N:P stoichiometry for fungi was 250:16:1 (molar), remarkably similar to the canonical Redfield values. However, we found extremely broad variation in fungal C:N:P ratios around the central tendencies in C:N:P ratios. Lower C:P and N:P ratios were found in Ascomycota fungi than in Basidiomycota fungi while significantly lower C:N ratios (p < 0.05) and higher N:P ratios (p < 0.01) were found in ectomycorrhizal fungi than in saprotrophs. Furthermore, several fungal stoichiometric ratios were strongly correlated with geographic and abiotic environmental factors, especially latitude, precipitation, and temperature. The results have implications for understanding the roles that fungi play in function in symbioses and in soil nutrient cycling. Further work is needed on the effects of actual in situ growth conditions of fungal growth on stoichiometry in the mycelium.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1281
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 14 2017


  • Elemental composition
  • Fungus
  • Guild
  • Homeostasis
  • Redfield ratios
  • Stoichiometry


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