Nitrogen limitation of net primary productivity in terrestrial ecosystems is globally distributed

David S LeBauer, Kathleen K Treseder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Our meta-analysis of 126 nitrogen addition experiments evaluated nitrogen (N) limitation of net primary production (NPP) in terrestrial ecosystems. We tested the hypothesis that N limitation is widespread among biomes and influenced by geography and climate. We used the response ratio (R approximately equal ANPP(N)/ANPP(ctrl)) of aboveground plant growth in fertilized to control plots and found that most ecosystems are nitrogen limited with an average 29% growth response to nitrogen (i.e., R = 1.29). The response ratio was significant within temperate forests (R = 1.19), tropical forests (R = 1.60), temperate grasslands (R = 1.53), tropical grasslands (R = 1.26), wetlands (R = 1.16), and tundra (R = 1.35), but not deserts. Eight tropical forest studies had been conducted on very young volcanic soils in Hawaii, and this subgroup was strongly N limited (R = 2.13), which resulted in a negative correlation between forest R and latitude. The degree of N limitation in the remainder of the tropical forest studies (R = 1.20) was comparable to that of temperate forests, and when the young Hawaiian subgroup was excluded, forest R did not vary with latitude. Grassland response increased with latitude, but was independent of temperature and precipitation. These results suggest that the global N and C cycles interact strongly and that geography can mediate ecosystem response to N within certain biome types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-9
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Fertilizers
  • Nitrogen
  • Plant Development
  • Plants
  • Trees
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

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