Patterns of new versus recycled primary production in the terrestrial biosphere

Cory C. Cleveland, Benjamin Z. Houlton, W. Kolby Smith, Alison R. Marklein, Sasha C. Reed, William Parton, Stephen J. Del Grosso, Steven W. Running

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

262 Scopus citations


Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability regulate plant productivity throughout the terrestrial biosphere, influencing the patterns and magnitude of net primary production (NPP) by land plants both now and into the future. These nutrients enter ecosystems via geologic and atmospheric pathways and are recycled to varying degrees through the plant-soil-microbe system via organic matter decay processes. However, the proportion of global NPP that can be attributed to new nutrient inputs versus recycled nutrients is unresolved, as are the large-scale patterns of variation across terrestrial ecosystems. Here, we combined satellite imagery, biogeochemical modeling, and empirical observations to identify previously unrecognized patterns of new versus recycled nutrient (N and P) productivity on land. Our analysis points to tropical forests as a hotspot of new NPP fueled by new N (accounting for 45% of total new NPP globally), much higher than previous estimates from temperate and high-latitude regions. The large fraction of tropical forest NPP resulting from new N is driven by the high capacity for N fixation, although this varies considerably within this diverse biome; N deposition explains a much smaller proportion of new NPP. By contrast, the contribution of new N to primary productivity is lower outside the tropics, and worldwide, new P inputs are uniformly low relative to plant demands. These results imply that new N inputs have the greatest capacity to fuel additional NPP by terrestrial plants, whereas lowP availability may ultimately constrain NPP across much of the terrestrial biosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12733-12737
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
StatePublished - Jul 30 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon cycle
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Stoichiometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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