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Ecoenzymatic stoichiometry of microbial organic nutrient acquisition in soil and sediment

Nature volume 462, pages 795798 (10 December 2009) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 03 November 2010

Abstract

Biota can be described in terms of elemental composition, expressed as an atomic ratio of carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus (refs 1–3). The elemental stoichiometry of microoorganisms is fundamental for understanding the production dynamics and biogeochemical cycles of ecosystems because microbial biomass is the trophic base of detrital food webs4,5,6. Here we show that heterotrophic microbial communities of diverse composition from terrestrial soils and freshwater sediments share a common functional stoichiometry in relation to organic nutrient acquisition. The activities of four enzymes that catalyse the hydrolysis of assimilable products from the principal environmental sources of C, N and P show similar scaling relationships over several orders of magnitude, with a mean ratio for C:N:P activities near 1:1:1 in all habitats. We suggest that these ecoenzymatic ratios reflect the equilibria between the elemental composition of microbial biomass and detrital organic matter and the efficiencies of microbial nutrient assimilation and growth. Because ecoenzymatic activities intersect the stoichiometric and metabolic theories of ecology7,8,9, they provide a functional measure of the threshold at which control of community metabolism shifts from nutrient to energy flow.

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Acknowledgements

J.J.F.S. was supported by the National Science Foundation (DBI-0630558).

Author Contributions R.L.S. provided data from soils. B.H.H. provided data from freshwater sediments. J.J.F.S. and R.L.S. collaborated on data synthesis and interpretation. All authors contributed to manuscript preparation.

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Affiliations

  1. Biology Department, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 871312, USA

    • Robert L. Sinsabaugh
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency, National Health & Environmental Effects Laboratory, Duluth, Minnesota 55804-2595, USA

    • Brian H. Hill
  3. Biology Department, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • Jennifer J. Follstad Shah

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert L. Sinsabaugh.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Data, Supplementary Tables S1-S2, Supplementary Figures S1 and Supplementary References.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08632

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