Down-regulation of tissue N:P ratios in terrestrial plants by elevated CO2

Qi Deng, Dafeng Hui, Yiqi Luo, James Elser, Ying Ping Wang, Irakli Loladze, Quanfa Zhang, Sam Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations generally alter element stoichiometry in plants. However, a comprehensive evaluation of the elevated CO2 impact on plant nitrogen : phosphorus (N:P) ratios and the underlying mechanism has not been conducted. We synthesized the results from 112 previously published studies using meta-analysis to evaluate the effects of elevated CO2 on the N:P ratio of terrestrial plants and to explore the underlying mechanism based on plant growth and soil P dynamics. Our results show that terrestrial plants grown under elevated CO2 had lower N:P ratios in both above- and belowground biomass across different ecosystem types. The response ratio for plant N:P was negatively correlated with the response ratio for plant growth in croplands and grasslands, and showed a stronger relationship for P than for N. In addition, the CO2-induced down-regulation of plant N:P was accompanied by 19.3% and 4.2% increases in soil phosphatase activity and labile P, respectively, and a 10.1% decrease in total soil P. Our results show that down-regulation of plant N:P under elevated CO2 corresponds with accelerated soil P cycling. These findings should be useful for better understanding of terrestrial plant stoichiometry in response to elevated CO2 and of the underlying mechanisms affecting nutrient dynamics under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3354-3362
Number of pages9
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Element stoichiometry
  • Elevated CO
  • Growth rate hypothesis
  • Metaanalysis
  • Nutrient dynamics
  • Progressive nitrogen limitation
  • Terrestrial ecosystems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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