Nitrogen and Phosphorus Uptake Stoichiometry Tracks Supply Ratio During 2-year Whole-Ecosystem Nutrient Additions

Nathan J. Tomczyk, Amy D. Rosemond, John S. Kominoski, David W.P. Manning, Jonathan P. Benstead, Vladislav Gulis, Steven A. Thomas, Erin R. Hotchkiss, Ashley M. Helton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nutrient uptake, storage, and release are critical ecosystem functions that affect carbon processing and food web dynamics. Yet, mechanisms controlling when ecosystems are net sinks or sources of nutrients are uncertain. Specifically, how nutrient supply ratios alter rates and ratios of net nutrient uptake and release is unclear. To assess whether net nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) uptake and release are linked to supply N:P, we experimentally enriched five forest streams at different N:P (target molar N:P range 2:1–128:1) for 2 years. We quantified net nutrient exchange (NNE) as the difference between the expected N and P fluxes assuming conservative transport (background concentrations plus experimental inputs) and the observed nutrient fluxes at the downstream end of each experimental stream reach. Supply N:P did not affect the magnitude of NNE for either N or P, but the likelihood of net N and P uptake was greatest at intermediate N:P supply (N:P = 99:1 and 55:1, respectively). Streams appeared to be highly flexible in their N:P uptake and release; the slopes between NNEN and NNEP within each stream increased with supply N:P. Furthermore, slopes comparing supply N:P to uptake and release N:P were near one (0.98 ± 0.06 SE and 0.82 ± 0.13 SE, respectively), indicating a high degree of flexibility. Overall, we found greater stoichiometric flexibility than has been shown in short-term nutrient-addition experiments. We suggest that this flexibility results from changes in nutrient recycling within biofilms or changes in community structure, which may take longer to manifest than the duration of shorter-term experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • biogeochemistry
  • Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory
  • ecological stoichiometry
  • homeostasis
  • nutrient dynamics
  • rivers
  • streams
  • upstream–downstream linkages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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