Increased plant growth from nitrogen addition should conserve phosphorus in terrestrial ecosystems

Michael P. Perring, Lars O. Hedin, Simon Asher Levin, Megan McGroddy, Claire De Mazancourt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Inputs of available nitrogen (N) to ecosystems have grown over the recent past. There is limited general understanding of how increased N inputs affect the cycling and retention of other potentially limiting nutrients. Using a plant-soil nutrient model, and by explicitly coupling N and phosphorus (P) in plant biomass, we examine the impact of increasing N supply on the ecosystem cycling and retention of P, assuming that the main impact of N is to increase plant growth. We find divergent responses in the P cycle depending on the specific pathway by which nutrients are lost from the ecosystem. Retention of P is promoted if the relative propensity for loss of plant available P is greater than that for the loss of less readily available organic P. This is the first theoretical demonstration that the coupled response of ecosystem-scale nutrient cycles critically depends on the form of nutrient loss. P retention might be lessened, or reversed, depending on the kinetics and size of a buffering reactive P pool. These properties determine the reactive pool's ability to supply available P. Parameterization of the model across a range of forest ecosystems spanning various environmental and climatic conditions indicates that enhanced plant growth due to increased N should trigger increased P conservation within ecosystems while leading to more dissolved organic P loss. We discuss how the magnitude and direction of the effect of N may also depend on other processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1971-1976
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 12 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Nitrogen inputs
  • Phosphorus cycle
  • Phosphorus retention


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