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Substrate stoichiometry determines nitrogen fixation throughout succession in southern Chinese forests

Substrate stoichiometry determines nitrogen fixation throughout succession in southern Chinese forests

The traditional view holds that biological nitrogen (N) fixation often peaks in early- or mid-successional ecosystems and declines throughout succession based on the hypothesis that soil N richness and/or phosphorus (P) depletion become disadvantageous to N fixers. This view, however, fails to support the observation that N fixers can remain active in many old-growth forests despite the presence of N-rich and/or P-limiting soils. Here, we found unexpected increases in N fixation rates in the soil, forest floor, and moss throughout three successional forests and along six age-gradient forests in southern China. We further found that the variation in N fixation was controlled by substrate carbon(C) : N and C : (N : P) stoichiometry rather than by substrate N or P. Our findings highlight the utility of ecological stoichiometry in illuminating the mechanisms that couple forest succession and N cycling.

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