Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Terrestrial ecosystems buffer inputs through storage and recycling of elements

Spohn, Marie; Aburto, Felipe; Ehlers, Todd A.; Farwig, Nina; Frings, Patrick J.; Hartmann, Henrik; Hoffmann, Thomas; Larsen, Annegret; Oelmann, Yvonne


This study presents a conceptual framework of buffering through storage and recycling of elements in terrestrial ecosystems and reviews the current knowledge about storage and recycling of elements in plants and ecosystems. Terrestrial ecosystems, defined here as plant-soil systems, buffer inputs from the atmosphere and bedrock through storage and recycling of elements, i.e., they dampen and delay their responses to inputs. Our framework challenges conventional paradigms of ecosystem resistance derived from plant community dynamics, and instead shows that element pools and fluxes have an overriding effect on the sensitivity of ecosystems to environmental change. While storage pools allow ecosystems to buffer variability in inputs over short to intermediate periods, recycling of elements enables ecosystems to buffer inputs over longer periods. The conceptual framework presented here improves our ability to predict the responses of ecosystems to environmental change. This is urgently needed to define thresholds which must not be exceeded to guarantee ecosystem functioning. This study provides a framework for future research to explore the extent to which ecosystems buffer variability in inputs.


Element storage; Nutrient recycling; Soil element cycling; Buffer; Storage mobilization

Published in

2021, volume: 156, number: 3, pages: 351-373
Publisher: SPRINGER

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment
Aburto, Felipe
University of Concepcion
Ehlers, Todd A.
Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen
Farwig, Nina
Philipps University Marburg
Frings, Patrick J.
Helmholtz Association
Hartmann, Henrik
Max Planck Society
Hoffmann, Thomas
German Federal Institute of Hydrology
Larsen, Annegret
Wageningen University and Research
Oelmann, Yvonne
Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)