Phosphorus (P) limitation of aboveground plant production is usually assumed to occur in tropical regions but rarely elsewhere. Here we report that such P limitation is more widespread and much stronger than previously estimated. In our global meta-analysis, almost half (46.2%) of 652 P-addition field experiments reveal a significant P limitation on aboveground plant production. Globally, P additions increase aboveground plant production by 34.9% in natural terrestrial ecosystems, which is 7.0–15.9% higher than previously suggested. In croplands, by contrast, P additions increase aboveground plant production by only 13.9%, probably because of historical fertilizations. The magnitude of P limitation also differs among climate zones and regions, and is driven by climate, ecosystem properties, and fertilization regimes. In addition to confirming that P limitation is widespread in tropical regions, our study demonstrates that P limitation often occurs in other regions. This suggests that previous studies have underestimated the importance of altered P supply on aboveground plant production in natural terrestrial ecosystems.
Plants are thought to be limited by phosphorus (P) especially in tropical regions. Here, Hou et al. report a meta-analysis of P fertilization experiments to show widespread P limitation on plant growth across terrestrial ecosystems modulated by climate, ecosystem properties, and fertilization regimes