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Leaf nitrogen:phosphorus stoichiometry across Chinese grassland biomes

Abstract

Leaf N and P stoichiometry covaries with many aspects of plant biology, yet the drivers of this trait at biogeographic scales remain uncertain. Recently we reported the patterns of leaf C and N based on systematic census of 213 species over 199 research sites in the grassland biomes of China. With the expanded analysis of leaf P, here we report patterns of leaf P and N:P ratios, and analyze the relative contribution of climatic variables and phylogeny in structuring patterns of leaf N:P stoichiometry. Average values of leaf P and N:P ratio were 1.9 mg g−1 and 15.3 (mass ratio), respectively, consistent with the previous observation of a higher N:P ratio in China’s flora than the global averages (ca. 13.8), resulting from a lower leaf P. Climatic variables had very little direct correlation with leaf P and N:P ratios, with growing season precipitation and temperature together explaining less than 2% of the variation, while inter-site differences and within-site phylogenetic variation explained 55 and 26% of the total variation in leaf P and N:P ratios. Across all sites and species, leaf N and P were highly positively correlated at all levels. However, the within-site, within-species covariations of leaf N and P were weaker than those across sites and across species. Leaf N and P relationships are driven by both variation between sites at the landscape scale (explaining 58% of the variance) and within sites at the local scale (explaining 24%), while the climatic factors exerted limited influence (explaining less than 3%). In addition, leaf N:P ratios in two dominant genera Kobresia and Stipa had different responses to precipitation. This study suggests that geographic variation and between-species variation, rather than climatic variation, are the major determinants of grassland foliar stoichiometry at the biome level.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Wenyun Zuo, Hongqing Feng, Xuefei Li, Chengjun Ji and Yahan Chen for assistance with field sample collections, Cunzhi Liang, Zhongling Liu, Zongyuan Zhu, and Qing Du for plant species identification in the field, and Bernhard Schmid for statistical advice. Dali Guo and Bernhard Schmid provided constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This research was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 30670322, 90411004 to J. S. H. and 90211016 to J. Y. F.). We declare that the work reported here complies with the current laws of the People’s Republic of China.

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Correspondence to Jin-Sheng He.

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Communicated by Guy Midgley.

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He, JS., Wang, L., Flynn, D.F.B. et al. Leaf nitrogen:phosphorus stoichiometry across Chinese grassland biomes. Oecologia 155, 301–310 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0912-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0912-y

Keywords

  • Leaf traits
  • Biogeographic patterns
  • Inner Mongolia
  • The Tibetan Plateau
  • Xinjiang