Long-term nitrogen loading alleviates phosphorus limitation in terrestrial ecosystems

Ji Chen, Kees J. van Groenigen, Bruce A. Hungate, César Terrer, Jan Willem van Groenigen, Fernando T. Maestre, Samantha C. Ying, Yiqi Luo, Uffe Jørgensen, Robert L. Sinsabaugh, Jørgen E. Olesen, Lars Elsgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Increased human-derived nitrogen (N) deposition to terrestrial ecosystems has resulted in widespread phosphorus (P) limitation of net primary productivity. However, it remains unclear if and how N-induced P limitation varies over time. Soil extracellular phosphatases catalyze the hydrolysis of P from soil organic matter, an important adaptive mechanism for ecosystems to cope with N-induced P limitation. Here we show, using a meta-analysis of 140 studies and 668 observations worldwide, that N stimulation of soil phosphatase activity diminishes over time. Whereas short-term N loading (≤5 years) significantly increased soil phosphatase activity by 28%, long-term N loading had no significant effect. Nitrogen loading did not affect soil available P and total P content in either short- or long-term studies. Together, these results suggest that N-induced P limitation in ecosystems is alleviated in the long-term through the initial stimulation of soil phosphatase activity, thereby securing P supply to support plant growth. Our results suggest that increases in terrestrial carbon uptake due to ongoing anthropogenic N loading may be greater than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5077-5086
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • microbial biomass
  • nitrogen addition
  • nutrient stoichiometry balance
  • phosphorus limitation
  • soil nitrogen content
  • soil pH
  • soil phosphatase activity
  • soil phosphorus content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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