Carbon:nitrogen stoichiometry in forest ecosystems during stand development

Yuanhe Yang, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Aim Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stoichiometry is a critical indicator of biogeochemical coupling in terrestrial ecosystems. However, our current understanding of C:N stoichiometry is mainly derived from observations across space, and little is known about its dynamics through time. Location Global secondary forests. Methods We examined temporal variations in C:N ratios and scaling relationships between N and C for various ecosystem components (i.e. plant tissue, litter, forest floor and mineral soil) using data extracted from 39 chronosequences in forest ecosystems around the world. Results The C:N ratio in plant tissue, litter, forest floor and mineral soil exhibited large variation across various sequences, with an average of 145.8 ± 9.4 (mean ± SE), 49.9 ± 3.0, 38.2 ± 3.1 and 18.5 ± 0.9, respectively. In most sequences, the plant tissue C:N ratio increased significantly with stand age, while the C:N ratio in litter, forest floor and mineral soil remained relatively constant over the age sequence. N and C scaled isometrically (i.e. the slope of the relationship between log-transformed N and C is not significantly different from 1.0) in litter, forest floor and mineral soil both within and across sequences, but not in plant tissue either within or across sequences. The C:N ratio was larger in coniferous forests than in broadleaf forests and in temperate forests than in tropical forests. In contrast, the N-C scaling slope did not reveal significant differences either between coniferous and broadleaf forests or between temperate and tropical forests. Main conclusions These results suggest that C and N become decoupled in plants but remain coupled in other ecosystem components during stand development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-361
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon:nitrogen ratio
  • Isometric scaling
  • Litter
  • Plant
  • Secondary forests
  • Soil
  • Time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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