Nitrogen inputs accelerate phosphorus cycling rates across a wide variety of terrestrial ecosystems


Author for correspondence:
Alison Marklein
Tel: +1 530 752 1491


  • Biologically essential elements – especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) – constrain plant growth and microbial functioning; however, human activities are drastically altering the magnitude and pattern of such nutrient limitations on land. Here we examine interactions between N and P cycles of P mineralizing enzyme activities (phosphatase enzymes) across a wide variety of terrestrial biomes.
  • We synthesized results from 34 separate studies and used meta-analysis to evaluate phosphatase activity with N, P, or N×P fertilization.
  • Our results show that N fertilization enhances phosphatase activity, from the tropics to the extra-tropics, both on plant roots and in bulk soils. By contrast, P fertilization strongly suppresses rates of phosphatase activity.
  • These results imply that phosphatase enzymes are strongly responsive to changes in local nutrient cycle conditions. We also show that plant phosphatases respond more strongly to fertilization than soil phosphatases. The tight coupling between N and P provides a mechanism for recent observations of N and P co-limitation on land. Moreover, our results suggest that terrestrial plants and microbes can allocate excess N to phosphatase enzymes, thus delaying the onset of single P limitation to plant productivity as can occur via human modifications to the global N cycle.