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Stoichiometry and large-scale patterns of leaf carbon and nitrogen in the grassland biomes of China

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Nitrogen (N) and carbon–nitrogen (C:N) ratio are key foliar traits with great ecological importance, but their patterns across biomes have only recently been explored. We conducted a systematic census of foliar C, N and C:N ratio for 213 species, from 41 families over 199 research sites across the grassland biomes of China following the same protocol, to explore how different environmental conditions and species composition affect leaf N and C:N stoichiometry. Leaf C:N stoichiometry is stable in three distinct climatic regions in Inner Mongolia, the Tibetan Plateau, and Xinjiang Autonomous Region, despite considerable variations among co-existing species and among different vegetation types. Our results also show that life form and genus identity explain more than 70% of total variations of foliar N and C:N ratio, while mean growing season temperature and growing season precipitation explained only less than 3%. This suggests that, at the biome scale, temperature affects leaf N mainly through a change in plant species composition rather than via temperature itself. When our data were pooled with a global dataset, the previously observed positive correlation between leaf N and mean annual temperature (MAT) at very low MATs, disappeared. Thus, our data do not support the previously proposed biogeochemical hypothesis that low temperature limitations on mineralization of organic matter and N availability in soils lead to low leaf N in cold environments.

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The authors thank members of Peking University Expedition Teams to the Tibetan Plateau (2003, 2004), Xinjiang Autonomous Region (2004) and Inner Mongolia (2004) for assistance with field data collection. Ch. Körner, B. Schmid, H. Heilmeier, Y.H. Tang, X.P. Wang and two anonymous reviewers helped with data interpretation and discussion. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 90411004, 40021101 and 90211016) to J.S.H. and J.Y.F., the State Key Basic Research and Development Plan (Project 2002CB412502) to J.S.H. and Peking University Research Fund (Project 211-II and 985-II) to J.Y.F. We declare that the work reported here complies with the current laws of the countries in which it was performed.

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Correspondence to Jin-Sheng He.

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Communicated by Hermann Heilmeier

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He, JS., Fang, J., Wang, Z. et al. Stoichiometry and large-scale patterns of leaf carbon and nitrogen in the grassland biomes of China. Oecologia 149, 115–122 (2006).

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