, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 769–779 | Cite as

Fire Eases Imbalances of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Woody Plants



Fires are widespread and can result in large nutrient losses from ecosystems simultaneous with pulses in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) that can increase their availability to plants. Plant growth is frequently limited by N and P, and fire has the potential to enhance or moderate the magnitude of N and P limitation in plants with important consequences for long-term net primary productivity and global carbon cycling. We used meta-analysis to explore fire effects on N and P concentrations in aboveground plant biomass among a variety of plants and plant communities worldwide. We show that across all observations, fire enhanced N concentration in plants when N/P ratios in biomass were low, and enhanced P concentration in plants when biomass N/P ratios were high. P concentration increased particularly in woody plants. Furthermore, responses of the N/P ratio in woody plants were more flexible than in herbaceous plants so that fire eased N and P imbalances only in woody plants. Our results suggest that these changes in plant N and P in response to fire may help sustain net primary productivity and persistence of woody plants in fire-affected ecosystems worldwide.


available soil nutrients disturbance meta-analysis nutrient limitation N/P stoichiometry prescribed burn slash-and-burn wildfire 



We thank D. Binkley, P. Attiwill, and P. Reich for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (FT100100779).

Supplementary material

10021_2015_9861_MOESM1_ESM.docx (110 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 109 kb)
10021_2015_9861_MOESM2_ESM.xls (174 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLS 174 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences, Centre for Carbon, Water and FoodThe University of SydneyCamdenAustralia

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