Foliar C, N, and P stoichiometry characterize successful plant ecological strategies in the Sonoran Desert

Alejandro E. Castellanos*, José M. Llano-Sotelo, Luis I. Machado-Encinas, José E. López-Piña, Jose R. Romo-Leon, Jordi Sardans, Josep Peñuelas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Ecological processes are centered to water availability in drylands; however, less known nutrient stoichiometry can help explain much of their structure and ecological interactions. Here we look to the foliar stoichiometry of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) of 38 dominant plant species from the Sonoran Desert, grouped in four different functional types to describe ecological characteristics and processes. We found that foliar N, C:N, C:P, and N:P stoichiometric ratios, but not P, were higher than those known to most other ecosystems and indicate P but not N limitations in leaves. Biological N fixers (BNF) had even higher leaf N concentrations, but bio-elemental concentrations and stoichiometry ratios were not different to other non-N-fixing legume species which underscores the need to understand the physiological mechanisms for high N, and to how costly BNF can succeed in P-limiting drylands environments. Stoichiometry ratios, and to lesser extent elemental concentrations, were able to characterize BNF and colonizing strategies in the Sonoran Desert, as well as explain leaf attribute differences, ecological processes, and biogeochemical niches in this dryland ecosystem, even when no direct reference is made to other water-limitation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-788
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature.


  • Biological nitrogen fixers
  • Drylands plants
  • Foliar stoichiometry
  • Invasive species
  • Nutrient-use efficiency
  • Sonoran Desert


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