Global patterns of terrestrial nitrogen and phosphorus limitation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) limitation constrains the magnitude of terrestrial carbon uptake in response to elevated carbon dioxide and climate change. However, global maps of nutrient limitation are still lacking. Here we examined global N and P limitation using the ratio of site-averaged leaf N and P resorption efficiencies of the dominant species across 171 sites. We evaluated our predictions using a global database of N- and P-limitation experiments based on nutrient additions at 106 and 53 sites, respectively. Globally, we found a shift from relative P to N limitation for both higher latitudes and precipitation seasonality and lower mean annual temperature, temperature seasonality, mean annual precipitation and soil clay fraction. Excluding cropland, urban and glacial areas, we estimate that 18% of the natural terrestrial land area is significantly limited by N, whereas 43% is relatively P limited. The remaining 39% of the natural terrestrial land area could be co-limited by N and P or weakly limited by either nutrient alone. This work provides both a new framework for testing nutrient limitation and a benchmark of N and P limitation for models to constrain predictions of the terrestrial carbon sink.


  • Enzai Du
  • César Terrer
  • Adam F.A. Pellegrini
  • Anders Ahlström
  • Caspar J. van Lissa
  • Xia Zhao
  • Nan Xia
  • Xinhui Wu
  • Robert B. Jackson
External organisations
  • Beijing Normal University
  • Stanford University
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Utrecht University
  • Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-226
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number3
Early online date2020 Feb 10
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar
Publication categoryResearch