Science China Life Sciences

, Volume 62, Issue 8, pp 1047–1057 | Cite as

Family-level leaf nitrogen and phosphorus stoichiometry of global terrestrial plants

  • Di Tian
  • Zhengbing Yan
  • Suhui Ma
  • Yuehong Ding
  • Yongkai Luo
  • Yahan Chen
  • Enzai Du
  • Wenxuan Han
  • Emoke Dalma Kovacs
  • Haihua Shen
  • Huifeng Hu
  • Jens Kattge
  • Bernhard Schmid
  • Jingyun FangEmail author
Research Paper


Leaf nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations are critical for photosynthesis, growth, reproduction and other ecological processes of plants. Previous studies on large-scale biogeographic patterns of leaf N and P stoichiometric relationships were mostly conducted using data pooled across taxa, while family/genus-level analyses are rarely reported. Here, we examined global patterns of family-specific leaf N and P stoichiometry using a global data set of 12,716 paired leaf N and P records which includes 204 families, 1,305 genera, and 3,420 species. After determining the minimum size of samples (i.e., 35 records), we analyzed leaf N and P concentrations, N:P ratios and N∼P scaling relationships of plants for 62 families with 11,440 records. The numeric values of leaf N and P stoichiometry varied significantly across families and showed diverse trends along gradients of mean annual temperature (MAT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP). The leaf N and P concentrations and N:P ratios of 62 families ranged from 6.11 to 30.30 mg g−1, 0.27 to 2.17 mg g−1, and 10.20 to 35.40, respectively. Approximately 1/3–1/2 of the families (22–35 of 62) showed a decrease in leaf N and P concentrations and N:P ratios with increasing MAT or MAP, while the remainder either did not show a significant trend or presented the opposite pattern. Family-specific leaf N∼P scaling exponents did not converge to a certain empirical value, with a range of 0.307–0.991 for 54 out of 62 families which indicated a significant N∼P scaling relationship. Our results for the first time revealed large variation in the family-level leaf N and P stoichiometry of global terrestrial plants and that the stoichiometric relationships for at least one-third of the families were not consistent with the global trends reported previously. The numeric values of the family-specific leaf N and P stoichiometry documented in the current study provide critical synthetic parameters for biogeographic modeling and for further studies on the physiological and ecological mechanisms underlying the nutrient use strategies of plants from different phylogenetic taxa.


leaf nitrogen (N) leaf phosphorus (P) plant stoichiometry family N:P ratios N∼P scaling relationship climate 


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We thank Wengjing Fang, Ming Ouyang, Yaoqi Li, Hanyue Huang, Zhiyao Tang, Qinggang Wang, and Shaopeng Wang for their helpful suggestions for data collection and analysis. We are grateful to the researchers who contributed their available data of leaf N and P content to the global TRY database. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31800397), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC0503900), and the TRY initiative on plant traits ( The TRY database is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Jena, Germany) and supported by DIVERSITAS/Future Earth, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and EU project BACI (640176).

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Family-level leaf nitrogen and phosphorus stoichiometry of global terrestrial plants


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Di Tian
    • 1
  • Zhengbing Yan
    • 2
  • Suhui Ma
    • 2
  • Yuehong Ding
    • 1
  • Yongkai Luo
    • 3
  • Yahan Chen
    • 3
  • Enzai Du
    • 4
  • Wenxuan Han
    • 5
  • Emoke Dalma Kovacs
    • 6
  • Haihua Shen
    • 3
  • Huifeng Hu
    • 3
  • Jens Kattge
    • 7
  • Bernhard Schmid
    • 8
  • Jingyun Fang
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Life SciencesCapital Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, and Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of EducationPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.College of Resources Science & Technology, and State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource EcologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions, Ministry of Education, College of Resources and Environmental SciencesChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  6. 6.National Institute for Research and Development in Optoelectronics INCDO-INOE 2000Research Institute for Analytical Instrumentation ICIA subsidiaryCluj-NapocaRomania
  7. 7.Max-Planck-Institute for BiogeochemistryJenaGermany
  8. 8.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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