Plant nutrients do not covary with soil nutrients under changing climatic conditions

Wentao Luo, James J. Elser, Xiao Tao Lü, Zhengwen Wang, Edith Bai, Caifeng Yan, Chao Wang, Mai He Li, Niklaus E. Zimmermann, Xingguo Han, Zhuwen Xu, Hui Li, Yunna Wu, Yong Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) play vital roles in plant growth and development. Yet how climate regimes and soil fertility influence plant N and P stoichiometry is not well understood, especially in the belowground plant parts. Here we investigated plant aboveground and belowground N and P concentrations ([N] and [P]) and their stoichiometry in three dominant genera along a 2200 km long climatic gradient in northern China. Results showed that temperature explained more variation of [N] and [P] in C4 plants, whereas precipitation exerted a stronger influence on [N] and [P] in C3 plants. Both plant aboveground and belowground [N] and [P] increased with decreasing precipitation, and increasing temperatures yet were negatively correlated with soil [N] and [P]. Plant N:P ratios were unrelated with all climate and soil variables. Plant aboveground and belowground [N] followed an allometric scaling relationship, but the allocation of [P] was isometric. These results imply that internal processes stabilize plant N:P ratios and hence tissue N:P ratios may not be an effective parameter for predicting plant nutrient limitation. Our results also imply that past positive relationships between plant and nutrient stocks may be challenged under changing climatic conditions. While any modeling would need to be able to replicate currently observed relationships, it is conceivable that some relationships, such as those between temperature or rainfall and carbon:nutrient ratios, should be different under changing climatic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1298-1308
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • aboveground and belowground relationship
  • climate change
  • precipitation
  • soil fertility
  • stoichiometry
  • temperature


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