, Volume 149, Issue 4, pp 676–689 | Cite as

Interactive effects of light and nutrients on phytoplankton stoichiometry

  • Elizabeth M. DickmanEmail author
  • Michael J. Vanni
  • Martin J. Horgan
Ecosystem Ecology


The stoichiometric composition of autotrophs can vary greatly in response to variation in light and nutrient availability, and can mediate ecological processes such as C sequestration, growth of herbivores, and nutrient cycling. We investigated light and nutrient effects on phytoplankton stoichiometry, employing five experiments on intact phytoplankton assemblages from three lakes varying in productivity and species composition. Each experiment employed two nutrient and eight irradiance levels in a fully factorial design. Light and nutrients interactively affected phytoplankton stoichiometry. Thus, phytoplankton C:N, C:P, and N:P ratios increased with irradiance, and slopes of the stoichiometric ratio versus irradiance relationships were steeper with ambient nutrients than with nutrients added. Our results support the light–nutrient hypothesis, which predicts that phytoplankton C:nutrient ratios are functions of the ratio of available light and nutrients; however, we observed considerable variation among lakes in the expression of this relationship. Phytoplankton species diversity was positively correlated with the slopes of the C:N and C:P versus irradiance relationships, suggesting that diverse assemblages may exhibit greater flexibility in the response of phytoplankton nutrient stoichiometry to light and nutrients. The interactive nature of light and nutrient effects may render it difficult to generate predictive models of stoichiometric responses to these two factors. Our results point to the need for future studies that examine stoichiometric responses across a wide range of phytoplankton communities.


Carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus ratio Lake Light–nutrient hypothesis Nitrogen Phosphorus 



We would like to thank S. Andrews, A. Bowling, G. Gordon, J. Mignery and C. Nagy for assistance in field work, and A. Bowling for conducting the P analyses. Comments by L. Knoll, L. Laurich, W. Nowlin, A. Pilati, L. Torres, and two anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript. This study was supported by the Miami University Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (US NSF grant DBI 0097393), NSF grant DEB 0235755, and grant FASR01 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. The experiments conducted in this study comply with the current laws of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth M. Dickman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael J. Vanni
    • 1
  • Martin J. Horgan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyMiami UniversityOxfordUSA

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