Plant and Soil

, Volume 373, Issue 1–2, pp 553–568 | Cite as

C:N:P stoichiometry in Australian soils with respect to vegetation and environmental factors

Regular Article



We estimate organic carbon (C): total nitrogen (N): total phosphorus (P) ratios in soils under Australia’s major native vegetation groups.


We use digital datasets for climate, soils, and vegetation created for the National Land and Water Resources Audit in 2001. Analysis-of-variance is used to investigate differences in nutrient ratios between ecosystems. Linear discriminant analysis and logistic regression are used to investigate the relative importance of climatic variables and soil nutrients in vegetation patterns.


We find that the N:P and C:P ratios have a greater range of values than the C:N ratio, although major vegetation groups tend to show similar trends across all three ratios. Some apparently homeostatic groupings emerge: those with very low, low, medium, or high N:P and C:P. Tussock grasslands have very low soil N, N:P, and C:P, probably due to frequent burning. Eucalypt woodlands have low soil N:P and C:P ratios, although their total P level varies. Rainforests and Melaleuca forests have medium soil N:P and C:P ratios, although their total P level is different. Heathlands, tall open eucalypt forests, and shrublands occur on soils with low levels of total P, and high N:P and C:P ratios that reflect foliar nutrient ratios and recalcitrant litter.


Certain plant communities have typical soil nutrient stoichiometries but there is no single Redfield-like ratio. Vegetation patterns largely reflect soil moisture but for several plant communities, eucalypt communities in particular, soil N and P (or N:P) also play a significant role. Soil N:P and the presence of Proteaceae appear indicative of nutrient constraints in ecosystems.


Soil organic carbon Soil nutrient Stoichiometry C:N ratio N:P ratio Edaphic factors Eucalypt communities Heathlands Rainforests Proteaceae Understorey Australia 



I want to thank John Raison and Alister Spain for useful comments on the draft of this paper.

Supplementary material

11104_2013_1823_MOESM1_ESM.docx (29 kb)
Table S1 Pairwise tests of MVG differences in mean of the log of C:N, N:P, and C:P ratios by Tukey Honest Significant Difference (DOCX 28 kb)
11104_2013_1823_MOESM2_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Table S2 Estimated foliar C:N and C:P ratios from data presented in Specht and Rundel (1990). Cellulose + lignin is estimated from the formula given for Sclerophylly Index (SI): SI = ((cellulose + lignin)/6.25*(%N))*100. C is estimated as cellulose + lignin. (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Land and WaterCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Mathematics, Informatics and StatisticsCanberraAustralia

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