Global change progressively increases foliar nitrogen–phosphorus ratios in China's subtropical forests

Yuan Lai, Songbo Tang, Hans Lambers, Peter Hietz, Wenguang Tang, Frank S. Gilliam, Xiankai Lu, Xianzhen Luo, Yutong Lin, Shu Wang, Feiyan Zeng, Qi Wang, Yuanwen Kuang

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Globally increased nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P) ratios (N/P) affect the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, but few studies have addressed the variation of foliar N/P over time in subtropical forests. Foliar N/P indicates N versus P limitation in terrestrial ecosystems. Quantifying long-term dynamics of foliar N/P and their potential drivers is crucial for predicting nutrient status and functioning in forest ecosystems under global change. We detected temporal trends of foliar N/P, quantitatively estimated their potential drivers and their interaction between plant types (evergreen vs. deciduous and trees vs. shrubs), using 1811 herbarium specimens of 12 widely distributed species collected during 1920–2010 across China's subtropical forests. We found significant decreases in foliar P concentrations (23.1%) and increases in foliar N/P (21.2%). Foliar N/P increased more in evergreen species (22.9%) than in deciduous species (16.9%). Changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations ((Formula presented.)), atmospheric N deposition and mean annual temperature (MAT) dominantly contributed to the increased foliar N/P of evergreen species, while (Formula presented.), MAT, and vapor pressure deficit, to that of deciduous species. Under future Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) scenarios, increasing MAT and (Formula presented.) would continuously increase more foliar N/P in deciduous species than in evergreen species, with more 12.9%, 17.7%, and 19.4% versus 6.1%, 7.9%, and 8.9% of magnitudes under the scenarios of SSP1-2.6, SSP3-7.0, and SSP5-8.5, respectively. The results suggest that global change has intensified and will progressively aggravate N–P imbalance, further altering community composition and ecosystem functioning of subtropical forests.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17201
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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