Nitrogen/phosphorus leaf stoichiometry and the scaling of plant growth

Karl J. Niklas, Thomas Owens, Peter B. Reich, Edward D. Cobb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


We adopted previous N:P stoichiometric models for zooplankton relative growth to predict the relative growth rates of the leaves μL of vascular plants assuming that annual leaf growth in dry mass is dictated by how leaf nitrogen NL is allocated to leaf proteins and how leaf phosphorus PL is allocated to rRNA. This model is simplified provided that NL scales as some power function of PL across the leaves of different species. This approach successfully predicted the μL of 131 species of vascular plants based on the observation that, across these species, NL scaled, on average, as the 3/4 power of PL, i.e. NL ∝ PL3/4. When juxtaposed with prior allometric theory and observations, our findings suggest that a transformation in N:P stoichiometry occurs when the plant body undergoes a transition from primary to secondary growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636-642
Number of pages7
JournalEcology letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2005


  • Plant allometry
  • Plant size
  • Protein-rRNA models
  • Scaling laws


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