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Sci Rep. 2016 Apr 7;6:24261. doi: 10.1038/srep24261.

Altitudinal patterns and controls of plant and soil nutrient concentrations and stoichiometry in subtropical China.

He X1,2, Hou E1, Liu Y1,2, Wen D1.

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Key Laboratory of Vegetation Restoration and Management of Degraded Ecosystems, South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China.
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.


Altitude is a determining factor of ecosystem properties and processes in mountains. This study investigated the changes in the concentrations of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) and their ratios in four key ecosystem components (forest floor litter, fine roots, soil, and soil microorganisms) along an altitudinal gradient (from 50 m to 950 m a.s.l.) in subtropical China. The results showed that soil organic C and microbial biomass C concentrations increased linearly with increasing altitude. Similar trends were observed for concentrations of total soil N and microbial biomass N. In contrast, the N concentration of litter and fine roots decreased linearly with altitude. With increasing altitude, litter, fine roots, and soil C:N ratios increased linearly, while the C:N ratio of soil microbial biomass did not change significantly. Phosphorus concentration and C:P and N:P ratios of all ecosystem components generally had nonlinear relationships with altitude. Our results indicate that the altitudinal pattern of plant and soil nutrient status differs among ecosystem components and that the relative importance of P vs. N limitation for ecosystem functions and processes shifts along altitudinal gradients.

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