A climate-driven switch in plant nitrogen acquisition within tropical forest communities

Benjamin Z. Houlton, Daniel M. Sigman, Edward A.G. Schuur, Lars O. Hedin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


The response of tropical forests to climate change will depend on individual plant species' nutritional strategies, which have not been defined in the case of the nitrogen nutrition that is critical to sustaining plant growth and photosynthesis. We used isotope natural abundances to show that a group of tropical plant species with diverse growth strategies (trees and ferns, canopy, and subcanopy) relied on a common pool of inorganic nitrogen, rather than specializing on different nitrogen pools. Moreover, the tropical species we examined changed their dominant nitrogen source abruptly, and in unison, in response to precipitation change. This threshold response indicates a coherent strategy among species to exploit the most available form of nitrogen in soils. The apparent community-wide flexibility in nitrogen uptake suggests that diverse species within tropical forests can physiologically track changes in nitrogen cycling caused by climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8902-8906
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 22 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Community ecology
  • Global change
  • Isotope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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