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Keywords:

  • carbon;
  • global change;
  • scaling;
  • stoichiometric flexibility;
  • terrestrial ecosystems

Summary

Ecosystems across the biosphere are subject to rapid changes in elemental balance and climatic regimes. A major force structuring ecological responses to these perturbations lies in the stoichiometric flexibility of systems – the ability to adjust their elemental balance whilst maintaining function. The potential for stoichiometric flexibility underscores the utility of the application of a framework highlighting the constraints and consequences of elemental mass balance and energy cycling in biological systems to address global change phenomena. Improvement in the modeling of ecological responses to disturbance requires the consideration of the stoichiometric flexibility of systems within and across relevant scales. Although a multitude of global change studies over various spatial and temporal scales exist, the explicit consideration of the role played by stoichiometric flexibility in linking micro-scale to macro-scale biogeochemical processes in terrestrial ecosystems remains relatively unexplored. Focusing on terrestrial systems under change, we discuss the mechanisms by which stoichiometric flexibility might be expressed and connected from organisms to ecosystems. We suggest that the transition from the expression of stoichiometric flexibility within individuals to the community and ecosystem scales is a key mechanism regulating the extent to which environmental perturbation may alter ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling dynamics.