Plant and soil nutrient stoichiometry along primary ecological successions: Is there any link?

Ecological stoichiometry suggests that plant Nitrogen (N)-to-Phosphorus (P) ratios respond to changes in both soil N:P stoichiometry and soil N and P availability. Thus we would expect that soil and plant N:P ratios be significantly related along natural gradients of soil development such as those associated with primary ecological successions. Here we explicitly search for linkages between plant and soil N:P stoichiometry along four primary successions distributed across Europe. We measured N and P content in soils and plant compartments (leaf, stem and root) of 72 wild plant species distributed along two sand dune and two glacier successions where soil age ranges from few to thousand years old. Overall we found that soil N:P ratios strongly increased along successional stages, however, plant N:P ratios were neither related to soil N:P stoichiometry nor to changes in soil N and P availability. Instead changes in plant nutrient stoichiometry were ªdrivenº by plant-functional-group identity. Not only N:P ratios differed between legumes, grasses and forbs but each of these plant functional groups maintained N:P ratios relatively constant across pioneer, middle and advanced successional stages. Our evidence is that soil nutrient stoichiometry may not be a good predictor of changes in plant N:P stoichiometry along natural primary ecological successions, which have not reached yet a retrogressive stage. This could be because wild-plants rely on mechanisms of internal nutrient regulation, which make them less dependent to changes in soil nutrient availability under unpredictable environmental conditions. Further studies need to clarify what underlying evolutionary and eco-physiological mechanisms determine changes in nutrient stoichiometry in plant species distributed across natural environmental gradients.
Publication history: Accepted - 20 July 2017; Published - 7 August 2017.
Di Palo, F. and Fornara, D. A. (2017) ‘Plant and soil nutrient stoichiometry along primary ecological successions: Is there any link?’, PLOS ONE. Edited by A. Valentine, 12(8), p. e0182569. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182569.