From Elements to Metabolism: Linking Organismal Stoichiometry to Ecosystem Function

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Rachel L Nifong, University of Florida, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Gainesville, FL, United States and Matthew J Cohen, University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Gainesville, FL, United States
Metabolism is an integrative metric of ecosystem function and energetics, synthesizing the relative contributions of multiple inputs, processes, and interactions. Stoichiometry is a framework based on elemental ratios for understanding how organisms interact within ecosystems. Linking the two has the potential to yield fresh insight about how ecosystems utilize elements and energy. We sought to quantify the link between the stoichiometry of ecosystem metabolism, specifically the C:N:P ratios of integrated autotrophic assimilation, and the stoichiometric tissue ratios observed in the dominant autotrophs. Using high frequency in situ nutrient sensors we estimated the assimilatory fluxes of C, N, and P in multiple spring-fed rivers of varying autotrophic species composition. We measured autotroph cover in each spring river, collected composite vegetation samples, and evaluated tissue stoichiometry; as expected, we observed large differences in C:N and N:P between algal and vascular plant taxa. We observed associations between measured tissue stoichiometry and elemental ratios at the ecosystem scale, suggesting that aggregated assimilatory fluxes may be useful for partitioning primary production and linking organismal nutrient content to the stoichiometry of ecosystem metabolism.