Microbial C: P Stoichiometry is Shaped by Redox Conditions Along an Elevation Gradient in Humid Tropical Rainforests

Yang Lin, Avner Gross, Whendee L Silver

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Elemental stoichiometry of microorganisms is intimately related to ecosystem carbon and nutrient fluxes and is ultimately controlled by the chemical (plant tissue, soil, redox) and physical (temperature, moisture, aeration) environment. Previous meta-analyses have shown that the C:P ratio of soil microbial biomass exhibits significant variations among and within biomes. Little is known about the underlying causes of this variability. We examined soil microbial C:P ratios along an elevation gradient in the Luquillo Experimental Forest in Puerto Rico. We analyzed soils from mixed forest paired with monodominant palm forest every 100 m from 300 m to 1000 m a.s.l.. Mean annual precipitation increased with increasing elevation, resulting in stronger reducing conditions and accumulation of soil Fe(II) at higher elevations. The mean value and variability of soil microbial C:P ratios generally increased with increasing elevation except at 1000 m. At high elevations (600-900 m), the average value of microbial C:P ratio (108±10:1) was significantly higher than the global average (~55:1). We also found that soil organic P increased with increasing elevation, suggesting that an inhibition of organic P mineralization, not decreased soil P availability, may cause the high microbial C:P ratio. The soil microbial C:P ratio was positively correlated with soil HCl-extractable Fe(II), suggesting that reducing conditions may be responsible for the elevational changes observed. In a follow-up experiment, soils from mixed forests at four elevation levels (300, 500, 700, and 1000 m) were incubated under aerobic and anaerobic conditions for two weeks. We found that anaerobic incubation consistently increased the soil microbial C:P ratio relative to the aerobic incubation. Overall, our results indicate that redox conditions can shift the elemental composition of microbial biomass. The high microbial C:P ratios induced under anoxic conditions may reflect inhibition of microbial P mineralization and/or immobilization under reducing conditions. These results will help us to better understand the patterns of nutrient cycling and microbial activity across macro-scale environmental gradients.
Original languageEnglish GB
Title of host publicationAGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
StatePublished - 11 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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