, Volume 98, Issue 1–3, pp 139–151 | Cite as

Pattern and variation of C:N:P ratios in China’s soils: a synthesis of observational data

  • Hanqin Tian
  • Guangsheng Chen
  • Chi Zhang
  • Jerry M. Melillo
  • Charles A. S. Hall


Inspired by previous studies that have indicated consistent or even well-constrained (relatively low variability) relations among carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in soils, we have endeavored to explore general soil C:N:P ratios in China on a national scale, as well as the changing patterns of these ratios with soil depth, developmental stages and climate; we also attempted to determine if well-constrained C:N:P stoichiometrical ratios exist in China’s soil. Based on an inventory data set of 2,384 soil profiles, our analysis indicated that the mean C:N, C:P and N:P ratios for the entire soil depth (as deep as 250 cm for some soil profiles) in China were 11.9, 61 and 5.2, respectively, showing a C:N:P ratio of ~60:5:1. C:N ratios showed relatively small variation among different climatic zones, soil orders, soil depth and weathering stages, while C:P and N:P ratios showed a high spatial heterogeneity and large variations in different climatic zones, soil orders, soil depth and weathering stages. No well-constrained C:N:P ratios were found for the entire soil depth in China. However, for the 0–10 cm organic-rich soil, which has the most active organism–environment interaction, we found a well-constrained C:N ratio (14.4, molar ratio) and relatively consistent C:P (136) and N:P (9.3) ratios, with a general C:N:P ratio of 134:9:1. Finally, we suggested that soil C:N, C:P and N:P ratios in organic-rich topsoil could be a good indicator of soil nutrient status during soil development.


Carbon Nitrogen Phosphorus Stoichiometry China 



This study was supported by NASA Interdisciplinary Science Program (NNG04GM39C), NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (NNX08AL73G_S01), and the Chinese Academy of Science ODS Program. We thank Dr. S. Wang for compiling the soil data sets, Dr. D. Johnson and two anonymous reviewers for critical comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hanqin Tian
    • 1
  • Guangsheng Chen
    • 1
  • Chi Zhang
    • 1
  • Jerry M. Melillo
    • 2
  • Charles A. S. Hall
    • 3
  1. 1.Ecosystem Dynamics and Global Ecology Laboratory, School of Forestry and Wildlife ScienceAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  2. 2.The Ecosystems CenterMarine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  3. 3.College of Environmental Science and ForestryState University of New YorkSyracuseUSA

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