Ratios of nitrogen (N) isotopes in leaves could elucidate underlying patterns of N cycling across ecological gradients. To better understand global-scale patterns of N cycling, we compiled data on foliar N isotope ratios (δ¹⁵N), foliar N concentrations, mycorrhizal type and climate for over 11 000 plants worldwide. Arbuscular mycorrhizal, ectomycorrhizal, and ericoid mycorrhizal plants were depleted in foliar δ¹⁵N by 2‰, 3.2‰, 5.9‰, respectively, relative to nonmycorrhizal plants. Foliar δ¹⁵N increased with decreasing mean annual precipitation and with increasing mean annual temperature (MAT) across sites with MAT ≥ −0.5°C, but was invariant with MAT across sites with MAT < −0.5°C. In independent landscape-level to regional-level studies, foliar δ¹⁵N increased with increasing N availability; at the global scale, foliar δ¹⁵N increased with increasing foliar N concentrations and decreasing foliar phosphorus (P) concentrations. Together, these results suggest that warm, dry ecosystems have the highest N availability, while plants with high N concentrations, on average, occupy sites with higher N availability than plants with low N concentrations. Global-scale comparisons of other components of the N cycle are still required for better mechanistic understanding of the determinants of variation in foliar δ¹⁵N and ultimately global patterns in N cycling.