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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42045. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042045. Epub 2012 Aug 3.

Nitrogen and phosphorus limitation over long-term ecosystem development in terrestrial ecosystems.

Author information

1
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America. dmenge@princeton.edu

Abstract

Nutrient limitation to net primary production (NPP) displays a diversity of patterns as ecosystems develop over a range of timescales. For example, some ecosystems transition from N limitation on young soils to P limitation on geologically old soils, whereas others appear to remain N limited. Under what conditions should N limitation and P limitation prevail? When do transitions between N and P limitation occur? We analyzed transient dynamics of multiple timescales in an ecosystem model to investigate these questions. Post-disturbance dynamics in our model are controlled by a cascade of rates, from plant uptake (very fast) to litter turnover (fast) to plant mortality (intermediate) to plant-unavailable nutrient loss (slow) to weathering (very slow). Young ecosystems are N limited when symbiotic N fixation (SNF) is constrained and P weathering inputs are high relative to atmospheric N deposition and plant N:P demand, but P limited under opposite conditions. In the absence of SNF, N limitation is likely to worsen through succession (decades to centuries) because P is mineralized faster than N. Over long timescales (centuries and longer) this preferential P mineralization increases the N:P ratio of soil organic matter, leading to greater losses of plant-unavailable N versus P relative to plant N:P demand. These loss dynamics favor N limitation on older soils despite the rising organic matter N:P ratio. However, weathering depletion favors P limitation on older soils when continual P inputs (e.g., dust deposition) are low, so nutrient limitation at the terminal equilibrium depends on the balance of these input and loss effects. If NPP switches from N to P limitation over long time periods, the transition time depends most strongly on the P weathering rate. At all timescales SNF has the capacity to overcome N limitation, so nutrient limitation depends critically on limits to SNF.

PMID:
22870281
PMCID:
PMC3411694
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0042045
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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