Patterns and controls of foliar nutrient stoichiometry and flexibility across United States forests

Katherine A. Dynarski, Fiona M. Soper, Sasha C. Reed, William R. Wieder, Cory C. Cleveland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Plant element stoichiometry and stoichiometric flexibility strongly regulate ecosystem responses to global change. Here, we tested three potential mechanistic drivers (climate, soil nutrients, and plant taxonomy) of both using paired foliar and soil nutrient data from terrestrial forested National Ecological Observatory Network sites across the USA. We found that broad patterns of foliar nitrogen (N) and foliar phosphorus (P) are explained by different mechanisms. Plant taxonomy was an important control over all foliar nutrient stoichiometries and concentrations, especially foliar N, which was dominantly related to taxonomy and did not vary across climate or soil gradients. Despite a lack of site-level correlations between N and environment variables, foliar N exhibited intraspecific flexibility, with numerous species-specific correlations between foliar N and various environmental factors, demonstrating the variable spatial and temporal scales on which foliar chemistry and stoichiometric flexibility can manifest. In addition to plant taxonomy, foliar P and N:P ratios were also linked to soil nutrient status (extractable P) and climate, especially actual evapotranspiration rates. Our findings highlight the myriad factors that influence foliar chemistry and show that broad patterns cannot be explained by a single consistent mechanism. Furthermore, differing controls over foliar N versus P suggests that each may be sensitive to global change drivers on distinct spatial and temporal scales, potentially resulting in altered ecosystem N:P ratios that have implications for processes ranging from productivity to carbon sequestration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3909
Pages (from-to)e3909
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
  • climate
  • element ratios
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • plant taxonomy
  • stoichiometric flexibility
  • Forests
  • Climate
  • United States
  • Nitrogen/analysis
  • Phosphorus/analysis
  • Ecosystem
  • Plant Leaves/chemistry
  • Soil


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