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Recent advances in ecological stoichiometry: insights for population and community ecology


  • S. Jannicke Moe,

  • Robert S. Stelzer,

  • M. Rebecca Forman,

  • W. Stanley Harpole,

  • Tanguy Daufresne,

  • Takehito Yoshida

S. J. Moe, Norwegian Inst. for Water Research, NO-0411 Oslo, Norway ( and Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Univ. of Oslo, NO-0316 Oslo, Norway. – R. S. Stelzer, Dept of Biology and Microbiology, Univ. of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901-8640, USA. -M. R. Forman and W. S. Harploe, Dept of Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior, Univ. of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA. – T. Daufresne, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. – T. Yoshida, Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Conventional theories of population and community dynamics are based on a single currency such as number of individuals, biomass, carbon or energy. However, organisms are constructed of multiple elements and often require them (in particular carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen) in different ratios than provided by their resources; this mismatch may constrain the net transfer of energy and elements through trophic levels. Ecological stoichiometry, the study of the balance of elements in ecological processes, offers a framework for exploring ecological effects of such constraints. We review recent theoretical and empirical studies that have considered how stoichiometry may affect population and community dynamics. These studies show that stoichiometric constraints can affect several properties of populations (e.g. stability, oscillations, consumer extinction) and communities (e.g. coexistence of competitors, competitive interactions between different guilds). We highlight gaps in general knowledge and focus on areas of population and community ecology where incorporation of stoichiometric constraints may be particularly fruitful, such as studies of demographic bottlenecks, spatial processes, and multi-species interactions. Finally, we suggest promising directions for new research by recommending potential study systems (terrestrial insects, detritivory-based webs, soil communities) to improve our understanding of populations and communities. Our conclusion is that a better integration of stoichiometric principles and other theoretical approaches in ecology may allow for a richer understanding of both population and community structure and dynamics.