, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 301-310
Date: 16 Nov 2007

Leaf nitrogen:phosphorus stoichiometry across Chinese grassland biomes

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Leaf N and P stoichiometry covaries with many aspects of plant biology, yet the drivers of this trait at biogeographic scales remain uncertain. Recently we reported the patterns of leaf C and N based on systematic census of 213 species over 199 research sites in the grassland biomes of China. With the expanded analysis of leaf P, here we report patterns of leaf P and N:P ratios, and analyze the relative contribution of climatic variables and phylogeny in structuring patterns of leaf N:P stoichiometry. Average values of leaf P and N:P ratio were 1.9 mg g−1 and 15.3 (mass ratio), respectively, consistent with the previous observation of a higher N:P ratio in China’s flora than the global averages (ca. 13.8), resulting from a lower leaf P. Climatic variables had very little direct correlation with leaf P and N:P ratios, with growing season precipitation and temperature together explaining less than 2% of the variation, while inter-site differences and within-site phylogenetic variation explained 55 and 26% of the total variation in leaf P and N:P ratios. Across all sites and species, leaf N and P were highly positively correlated at all levels. However, the within-site, within-species covariations of leaf N and P were weaker than those across sites and across species. Leaf N and P relationships are driven by both variation between sites at the landscape scale (explaining 58% of the variance) and within sites at the local scale (explaining 24%), while the climatic factors exerted limited influence (explaining less than 3%). In addition, leaf N:P ratios in two dominant genera Kobresia and Stipa had different responses to precipitation. This study suggests that geographic variation and between-species variation, rather than climatic variation, are the major determinants of grassland foliar stoichiometry at the biome level.

Communicated by Guy Midgley.