, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 49–67

Stoichiometric relationships among producers, consumers and nutrient cycling in pelagic ecosystems

  • Robert W. Sterner
  • James J. Elser
  • Dag O. Hessen

DOI: 10.1007/BF00002759

Cite this article as:
Sterner, R.W., Elser, J.J. & Hessen, D.O. Biogeochemistry (1992) 17: 49. doi:10.1007/BF00002759


Most ecosystem models consolidate members of food-webs, e.g. species, into a small number of functional components. Each of these is then described by a single state variable such as biomass. When a multivariate approach incorporating multiple substances within components is substituted for this univariate one, a ‘stoichiometric’ model is formed. Here we show that the Nitrogen:Phosphorus ratio within zooplankton herbivores varies substantially intraspecifically but not intraspecifically. By using stoichiometric theory and recent measurements of the N:P ratio within different zooplankton taxa, we calculate large differences in ratios of nutrients recycled by different zooplankton species. Finally, we demonstrate that N:P stoichiometry can successfully account for shifts in N- and P-limitation previously observed in whole-lake experiments. Species stoichiometry merges food-web dynamics with biogeochemical cycles to yield new insights.

Key words




N:P in zooplankton biomass


N:P in algal biomass


maximum accumulation eficiency


ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus (moles:moles)


N:P supply ratio from grazers


Total nitrogen = seston N + dissolved N (µmoles/liter)


Total phosphorus = seston P + dissolved P (µmoles/liter)

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Sterner
    • 1
  • James J. Elser
    • 2
  • Dag O. Hessen
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyThe University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Norwegian Institute for Water ResearchOslo 8Norway