Title

From Elements to Function: Toward Unifying Ecological Stoichiometry and Trait-Based Ecology

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2017

Department

Biological Sciences

Abstract

The theories developed in ecological stoichiometry (ES) are fundamentally based on traits. Traits directly linked to cell/body stoichiometry, such as nutrient uptake and storage, as well as the associated trade-offs, have the potential to shape ecological interactions such as competition and predation within ecosystems. Further, traits that indirectly influence and are influenced by nutritional requirements, such as cell/body size and growth rate, are tightly linked to organismal stoichiometry. Despite their physiological and ecological relevance, traits are rarely explicitly integrated in the framework of ES and, currently, the major challenge is to more closely inter-connect ES with trait-based ecology (TBE). Here, we highlight four interconnected nutrient trait groups, i.e., acquisition, body stoichiometry, storage, and excretion, which alter interspecific competition in autotrophs and heterotrophs. We also identify key differences between producer-consumer interactions in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. For instance, our synthesis shows that, in contrast to aquatic ecosystems, traits directly influencing herbivore stoichiometry in forested ecosystems should play only a minor role in the cycling of nutrients. We furthermore describe how linking ES and TBE can help predict the ecosystem consequences of global change. The concepts we highlight here allow us to predict that increasing N:P ratios in ecosystems should shift trait dominances in communities toward species with higher optimal N:P ratios and higher P uptake affinity, while decreasing N retention and increasing P storage.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Environmental Science

Volume

5

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