Aim The identification of stoichiometric flexibility is crucial for understanding carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus (C-N-P) interactions and ecosystem dynamics under a changing environment. However, current evidence of stoichiometric flexibility mainly comes from manipulation experiments, with little evidence from large-scale observations.
Location Alpine and temperate grasslands across northern China.
Methods Using soil profiles derived from a historical national soil inventory and a contemporary regional soil survey across China's grasslands, we examined temporal changes in topsoil C:N:P ratios over recent decades.
Results Topsoil C: N ratios of five major grassland types exhibited some flexibility but did not show significant changes over the sampling interval. Non-significant changes in topsoil C: N ratios were observed both in alpine grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau and in temperate grasslands on the Inner Mongolian Plateau. Consistent with the relatively stable C: N ratios, the slope of the soil C-N stoichiometric relationship did not differ significantly between the two sampling periods. Soil N: P ratios in the surface layer increased significantly over the sampling interval, however, with an overall increase of 0.60 (95% confidence interval 0.58-0.62). A larger increase in soil N: P ratio was found in temperate grasslands on the Inner Mongolian Plateau than in alpine grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau. Moreover, the slope of the soil N-P stoichiometric relationship in these grassland ecosystems became steeper over the sampling interval.
Main conclusions These results demonstrate the stability of topsoil C: N stoichiometry but variability in N: P stoichiometry over broad geographical scales, highlighting that soil C and N are tightly coupled, but N and P tend to be decoupled under a changing environment.
- carbon-nitrogen-phosphorus interactions
- carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus ratio
- ecological stoichiometry
- grassland ecosystems
- soil inventory
- stoichiometric flexibility
- terrestrial ecosystems
- nitrogen deposition
- elevated CO2
- microbial biomass
- inorganic carbon
- global change