, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 387–395 | Cite as

A Framework to Assess Biogeochemical Response to Ecosystem Disturbance Using Nutrient Partitioning Ratios

  • J. Marty KranabetterEmail author
  • Kendra K. McLauchlan
  • Sara K. Enders
  • Jennifer M. Fraterrigo
  • Philip E. Higuera
  • Jesse L. Morris
  • Edward B. Rastetter
  • Rebecca Barnes
  • Brian Buma
  • Daniel G. Gavin
  • Laci M. Gerhart
  • Lindsey Gillson
  • Peter Hietz
  • Michelle C. Mack
  • Brenden McNeil
  • Steven Perakis


Disturbances affect almost all terrestrial ecosystems, but it has been difficult to identify general principles regarding these influences. To improve our understanding of the long-term consequences of disturbance on terrestrial ecosystems, we present a conceptual framework that analyzes disturbances by their biogeochemical impacts. We posit that the ratio of soil and plant nutrient stocks in mature ecosystems represents a characteristic site property. Focusing on nitrogen (N), we hypothesize that this partitioning ratio (soil N: plant N) will undergo a predictable trajectory after disturbance. We investigate the nature of this partitioning ratio with three approaches: (1) nutrient stock data from forested ecosystems in North America, (2) a process-based ecosystem model, and (3) conceptual shifts in site nutrient availability with altered disturbance frequency. Partitioning ratios could be applied to a variety of ecosystems and successional states, allowing for improved temporal scaling of disturbance events. The generally short-term empirical evidence for recovery trajectories of nutrient stocks and partitioning ratios suggests two areas for future research. First, we need to recognize and quantify how disturbance effects can be accreting or depleting, depending on whether their net effect is to increase or decrease ecosystem nutrient stocks. Second, we need to test how altered disturbance frequencies from the present state may be constructive or destructive in their effects on biogeochemical cycling and nutrient availability. Long-term studies, with repeated sampling of soils and vegetation, will be essential in further developing this framework of biogeochemical response to disturbance.


Disturbance Fire regime Succession Multiple element limitation (MEL) model Nitrogen stocks Nutrient ratio 



We thank members of the Novus Research Coordination Network for helpful discussion. We also thank the Long-term Soil Productivity network for contributions of site N data, including Andy Scott, Dave Morris, Paul Hazlett, Rob Fleming, Deb Page-Dumerose, Felix Ponder, Mary-Beth Adams, Richard Kabzems, Bill Chapman, and Graeme Hope. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB-1145815 and 0949420. Bill Reiners and an anonymous reviewer provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Any use of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Marty Kranabetter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kendra K. McLauchlan
    • 2
  • Sara K. Enders
    • 3
  • Jennifer M. Fraterrigo
    • 4
  • Philip E. Higuera
    • 5
  • Jesse L. Morris
    • 6
  • Edward B. Rastetter
    • 7
  • Rebecca Barnes
    • 8
  • Brian Buma
    • 9
  • Daniel G. Gavin
    • 10
  • Laci M. Gerhart
    • 2
  • Lindsey Gillson
    • 11
  • Peter Hietz
    • 12
  • Michelle C. Mack
    • 13
  • Brenden McNeil
    • 14
  • Steven Perakis
    • 15
  1. 1.Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource OperationsVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  3. 3.Department of Land, Air, & Water ResourcesUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Forest Rangeland and Fire SciencesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  6. 6.Department of Forest Rangeland, and Fire SciencesUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  7. 7.The Marine Biological LaboratoryThe Ecosystem CenterWoods HoleUSA
  8. 8.Environmental ProgramColorado CollegeColorado SpringsUSA
  9. 9.University of Alaska SoutheastJuneauUSA
  10. 10.Department of Geography1251 University of OregonEugeneUSA
  11. 11.Plant Conservation Unit, Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  12. 12.Institute of BotanyUniversity of Natural Resources and Life SciencesViennaAustria
  13. 13.Center for Ecosystem Science and SocietyNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  14. 14.Department of Geology and GeographyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  15. 15.US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterCorvallisUSA

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