Phylogenetic and growth form variation in the scaling of nitrogen and phosphorus in the seed plants.

Andrew J. Kerkhoff, William F. Fagan, James J. Elser, Brian J. Enquist

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421 Scopus citations


Plant biomass and nutrient allocation explicitly links the evolved strategies of plant species to the material and energy cycles of ecosystems. Allocation of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) is of particular interest because N and P play pivotal roles in many aspects of plant biology, and their availability frequently limits plant growth. Here we present a comparative scaling analysis of a global data compilation detailing the N and P contents of leaves, stems, roots, and reproductive structures of 1,287 species in 152 seed plant families. We find that P and N contents (as well as N : P) are generally highly correlated both within and across organs and that differences exist between woody and herbaceous taxa. Between plant organs, the quantitative form of the scaling relationship changes systematically, depending on whether the organs considered are primarily structural (i.e., stems, roots) or metabolically active (i.e., leaves, reproductive structures). While we find significant phylogenetic signals in the data, similar scaling relationships occur in independently evolving plant lineages, which implies that both the contingencies of evolutionary history and some degree of environmental convergence have led to a common set of rules that constrain the partitioning of nutrients among plant organs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E103-122
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2006


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