NCEAS Product 23854

Ballantyne, Ford; Menge, Duncan N.; Weitz, Joshua S. 2010. A discrepancy between predictions of saturating nutrient uptake models and nitrogen-to-phosphorus stoichiometry in the surface ocean. Limnology and Oceanography. Vol: 55(3). Pages 997-1008. (Abstract) (Online version)


We derive a simple prediction about euphotic zone N: P stoichiometry from a large class of models that use saturating nutrient uptake functions to characterize N and P acquisition by phytoplankton. The prediction is: At an ecological steady state, the ratio of phytoplankton N: P to inorganic N: P in the euphotic zone equals the ratio of phytoplankton maximum uptake rates of N and P. We estimate this predicted ratio using nutrient uptake parameters measured in laboratory growth experiments and compare the predicted ratio to empirical observations from long‐term sampling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The model predictions for the ratio of phytoplankton N: P to inorganic N: P are at odds with the majority of data from extensive long‐term sampling in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. This discrepancy calls into question the scope of applicability of ecosystem models that explicitly describe phytoplankton growth as a function of N and P availability. We discuss efforts to resolve this discrepancy, including the need for performing more comprehensive N and P uptake experiments and by reexamining models of nutrient uptake.