Potassium: A neglected nutrient in global change

Jordi Sardans, Josep Peñuelas

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

    204 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Aim: Potassium (K) is the second most abundant nutrient in plant photosynthetic tissues after nitrogen (N). Thousands of physiological and metabolic studies in recent decades have established the fundamental role of K in plant function, especially in water-use efficiency and economy, and yet macroecological studies have mostly overlooked this nutrient. Methods: We have reviewed available studies on the content, stoichiometry and roles of K in the soil-plant system and in terrestrial ecosystems. We have also reviewed the impacts of global change drivers on K content, stoichiometry and roles. Conclusions: The current literature indicates that K, at a global level, is as limiting as N and phosphorus (P) for plant productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. Some degree of K limitation has been seen in up to 70% of all studied terrestrial ecosystems. However, in some areas atmospheric K deposition from human activities is greater than that from natural sources. We are far from understanding the K fluxes between the atmosphere and land, and the role of anthropogenic activities in these fluxes. The increasing aridity expected in wide areas of the world makes K more critical through its role in water-use efficiency. N deposition exerts a strong impact on the ecosystem K cycle, decreasing K availability and increasing K limitation. Plant invasive success is enhanced by higher soil K availability, especially in environments without strong abiotic stresses. The impacts of other drivers of global change, such as increasing atmospheric CO2 or changes in land use, remain to be elucidated. Current models of the responses of ecosystems and carbon storage to projected global climatic and atmospheric changes are now starting to consider N and P, but they should also consider K, mostly in arid and semi-arid ecosystems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)261-275
    JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


    • Climate change
    • Drought
    • Ecological stoichiometry
    • Eutrophication
    • Global change
    • Invasiveness
    • N:K
    • Plant growth


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