Symbiotic nitrogen (N) fixers are critical components of many terrestrial ecosystems. There is evidence that some N fixers fix N at the same rate regardless of environmental conditions (a strategy we call obligate), while others adjust N fixation to meet their needs (a strategy we call facultative). Although these strategies are likely to have qualitatively different impacts on their environment, the relative effectiveness and ecosystem-level impacts of each strategy have not been explored. Using a simple mathematical model, we determine the best facultative strategy and show that it excludes any obligate strategy (fixer or nonfixer) in our basic model. To provide an ex-planation for the existence of nonfixers and obligate fixers, we show that both costs of being facultative and time lags inherent in the process of N fixation can select against facultative N fixers and also produce the seemingly paradoxical patterns of sustained N limitation and N richness. Finally, we speculate on why the costs and lags may differ between temperate and tropical regions and thus whether they can explain patterns in both biomes simultaneously.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Evolutionary ecology
- Nitrogen fixation
- Nitrogen limitation