Stoichiometric linkages between plant litter, trophic interactions and nitrogen mineralization across the litter-soil interface

Yolima Carrillo, Rebecca Ball, Marirosa Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The common notion for describing N mineralization in models is that it results from decomposer organisms trying to meet their stoichiometric demands based on their own elemental composition and that of the resource. However, in addition to influencing C and nutrient availability, plant litter also influences the composition of both the litter and mineral soil community - importantly not in the same manner - resulting in altered trophic interactions. Since decomposer groups and their consumers vary in their elemental composition and demands, a change in composition and abundance of soil functional groups may result in a change in the stoichiometry of the whole soil food web, thus altering their stoichiometric relations with the available resource with potential functional consequences. We use experimental data and quantitative food web modeling to investigate the impact of the changes in the litter and soil food webs brought about by the differing stoichiometry of plant litter on (a) N mineralization, (b) the contribution of different functional groups to mineralization, and (c) the stoichiometric flexibility of the system, assessed as the ability to mineralize materials with different stoichiometry. Our simulations suggested that the effects of litter stoichiometry on trophic interactions, their impacts on N mineralization and the relative contribution of functional groups may not behave as a continuum across the litter and soil interface. Further, changes in food webs associated with variation in plant stoichiometric traits can influence the relative importance of functional groups, which given their particular stoichiometric demands may affect ecosystem-level N cycling. Our results suggested that litter materials of intermediate N contents, or litter mixtures encompassing materials with different nutrient contents and thus resulting in mixtures of intermediate stoichiometry, may promote food webs that are better suited to deal with changing substrate stoichiometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-110
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Litter quality
  • Mineralization
  • Nitrogen
  • Soil community
  • Soil food web model
  • Stoichiometry
  • Trophic interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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