Soil fungal mycelia have unexpectedly flexible stoichiometric C:N and C:P ratios.


Camenzind T(1)(2), Philipp Grenz K(1), Lehmann J(3), Rillig MC(1)(2).
Author information:
(1)Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Altensteinstr. 6, Berlin, 14195, Germany.
(2)Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research
(BBIB), Berlin, 14195, Germany.
(3)Soil and Crop Sciences, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853, USA.


Soil ecological stoichiometry provides powerful theories to integrate the complex interplay of element cycling and microbial communities into biogeochemical models. One essential assumption is that microbes maintain stable C:N:P (carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus) ratios independent of resource supply, although such homeostatic regulations have rarely been assessed in individual microorganisms. Here, we report an unexpected high flexibility in C:N and C:P values of saprobic fungi along nutrient supply gradients, overall ranging between 7-126 and 20-1488, respectively, questioning microbial homeostasis. Fungal N:P varied comparatively less due to simultaneous reductions in mycelial N and P contents. As a mechanism, internal recycling processes during mycelial growth and an overall reduced N and P uptake appear more relevant than element storage. The relationships among fungal stoichiometry and growth disappeared in more complex media. These findings affect our interpretation of stoichiometric imbalances among microbes and soils and are highly relevant for developing microbial soil organic carbon and nitrogen models.