Observations of the tropical nitrogen (N) cycle over the past half century indicate that intact tropical forests tend to accumulate and recycle large quantities of N relative to temperate forests, as evidenced by plant and soil N to phosphorus (P) ratios, by P limitation of plant growth in some tropical forests, by an abundance of N-fixing plants, and by sustained export of bioavailable N at the ecosystem scale. However, this apparent up-regulation of the ecosystem N cycle introduces a biogeochemical paradox when considered from the perspective of physiology and evolution of individual plants: The putative source for tropical N richness—symbiotic N fixation—should, in theory, be physiologically down-regulated as internal pools of bioavailable N build. We review the evidence for tropical N richness and evaluate several hypotheses that may explain its emergence and maintenance. We propose a leaky nitrostat model that is capable of resolving the paradox at scales of both ecosystems and individual N-fixing organisms.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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