Out of Africa and into Stoichiometry

  • Susan S. KilhamEmail author
  • Peter Kilham


The development of ideas leading to the concept of ecological stoichiometry is detailed. Initial work on biogeochemistry of African lakes by P. Kilham led to the development of freshwater diatom physiology to test his silica hypothesis. Further resource experiments on P-limited diatoms by Tilman and his tests of competition led to the discovery that species-specific Si:P ratios were important in determining the outcomes of competition. It became clear that stoichiometry was the clue to understanding plankton community structure. P. Kilham’s continued work on biogeochemistry of African inland waters led to his summary paper about geochemical processes controlling water chemistry and to several joint papers exploring the differences between temperate and tropical lakes. We proposed that biological control of elemental cycles dominates in tropical lakes year round, whereas nutrient cycles in temperate lakes are dominated by physical processes for a large part of the year, resulting in fundamental differences in nutrient regeneration. Following P. Kilham’s death in 1989, S. Kilham continued to test resource ratio theory in collaboration with Theriot and Interlandi in phytoplankton communities in the large lakes of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Resource ratios of Si, P, N, and light were surprisingly variable and complex in time and space over the growing season. Diatom community structure could be largely explained by each common species’ unique 4D resource signature. It was further observed that the phytoplankton species diversity had a direct significant relationship to the number of potentially limiting resources.


African lakes African water chemistry Diatoms Biogeochemistry Ecological stoichiometry Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Phytoplankton physiology Resource ratio theory 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental ScienceDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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