Long-term nitrogen loading alleviates phosphorus limitation in terrestrial ecosystems

Ji Chen*, Kees J. van Groenigen*, Bruce A. Hungate, César Terrer, Jan Willem van Groenigen, Fernando T. Maestre, Samantha C. Ying, Yiqi Luo, Uffe Jørgensen, Robert L. Sinsabaugh, Jørgen E. Olesen, Lars Elsgaard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Increased human-derived nitrogen (N) deposition to terrestrial ecosystems has resulted in widespread phosphorus (P) limitation of net primary productivity. However, it remains unclear if and how N-induced P limitation varies over time. Soil extracellular phosphatases catalyze the hydrolysis of P from soil organic matter, an important adaptive mechanism for ecosystems to cope with N-induced P limitation. Here we show, using a meta-analysis of 140 studies and 668 observations worldwide, that N stimulation of soil phosphatase activity diminishes over time. Whereas short-term N loading (≤5 years) significantly increased soil phosphatase activity by 28%, long-term N loading had no significant effect. Nitrogen loading did not affect soil available P and total P content in either short- or long-term studies. Together, these results suggest that N-induced P limitation in ecosystems is alleviated in the long-term through the initial stimulation of soil phosphatase activity, thereby securing P supply to support plant growth. Our results suggest that increases in terrestrial carbon uptake due to ongoing anthropogenic N loading may be greater than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5077-5086
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • microbial biomass
  • nitrogen addition
  • nutrient stoichiometry balance
  • phosphorus limitation
  • soil nitrogen content
  • soil pH
  • soil phosphatase activity
  • soil phosphorus content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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