Revisiting the growth rate hypothesis: Towards a holistic stoichiometric understanding of growth

Jana Isanta-Navarro, Clay Prater, Logan M. Peoples, Irakli Loladze, Tin Phan, Punidan D. Jeyasingh, Matthew J. Church, Yang Kuang, James J. Elser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The growth rate hypothesis (GRH) posits that variation in organismal stoichiometry (C:P and N:P ratios) is driven by growth-dependent allocation of P to ribosomal RNA. The GRH has found broad but not uniform support in studies across diverse biota and habitats. We synthesise information on how and why the tripartite growth-RNA-P relationship predicted by the GRH may be uncoupled and outline paths for both theoretical and empirical work needed to broaden the working domain of the GRH. We found strong support for growth to RNA (r2 = 0.59) and RNA-P to P (r2 = 0.63) relationships across taxa, but growth to P relationships were relatively weaker (r2 = 0.09). Together, the GRH was supported in ~50% of studies. Mechanisms behind GRH uncoupling were diverse but could generally be attributed to physiological (P accumulation in non-RNA pools, inactive ribosomes, translation elongation rates and protein turnover rates), ecological (limitation by resources other than P), and evolutionary (adaptation to different nutrient supply regimes) causes. These factors should be accounted for in empirical tests of the GRH and formalised mathematically to facilitate a predictive understanding of growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2324-2339
Number of pages16
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • RNA
  • carbon
  • ecological stoichiometry
  • growth rate hypothesis
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • protein


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