Life on Earth depends upon one–way flow of high–quality energy from sun & cycling of crucial elements.
Nitrogen and Phosphorus … These elements are essential to function and productivity of ecological systems.
Importance of Nitrogen (N) Nitrogen is a part of all living cells and is a necessary part of all proteins, enzymes and metabolic processes involved in the synthesis and transfer of energy. Nitrogen is a part of chlorophyll, the green pigment of the plant that is responsible for photosynthesis.
Importance of Nitrogen (N) Helps plants with rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops. Nitrogen often comes from the air (legumes get their N from the atmosphere, water or rainfall contributes very little nitrogen)
THE NITROGEN CYCLE Nitrogen (N) is an element like carbon. All creatures need nitrogen to survive. There are huge amounts of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere, but most animals and plants have no way of using it. It needs to be fixed (put into a biologically useful compound). After it is fixed, it can then start to move through the cycles and organisms in an ecosystem.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? Nitrogen gas is the most abundant element in our atmosphere. The other main source of nitrogen is in the nitrates of soil. The nitrogen in the atmosphere cannot be used while the nitrates in the soil can be used by plants. Nitrogen can be converted into useful nitrate compounds by bacteria, algae, and even lightning. Once in the soil, the nitrogen becomes biologically accessible.
BORROWING NITROGEN Plants are the main users of nitrogen in the soil. They are able to take in the nitrates through their root system. Once inside the plant, the nitrates are used in organic compound that let the plant survive. Organic compounds have carbon atoms. Those compounds might be proteins, enzymes, or nucleic acids. Once the plants have converted the nitrogen, the element can be returned to the soil or taken up by animals. Herbivores eat plants and convert many of the amino acids into new proteins. Omnivores that eat both plants and animals are able to take in the nitrogen rich compounds as well. The nitrogen compounds are only borrowed. Nitrogen atoms are returned to the soil in poop and dead organisms. Once in the soil, the whole process can start again.
Major components of aquatic ecosystems. Fig. 4–11
Major components of terrestrial ecosystems. Fig. 4–12
Nitrogen is essential to all living systems, which makes the nitrogen cycle one of Earth's most important nutrient cycles. Eighty percent of Earth's atmosphere is made up of nitrogen in its gas phase. Atmospheric nitrogen becomes part of living organisms in two ways. The first is through bacteria in the soil that form nitrates out of nitrogen in the air. The second is through lightning. During electrical storms, large amounts of nitrogen are oxidized and united with water to produce an acid that falls to Earth in rainfall and deposits nitrates in the soil.
Human activities and the nitrogen cycle Human activities cause increased nitrogen deposition in a variety of ways, including burning of both fossil fuels and forests, which releases nitrogen into the atmosphere fertilizing crops with nitrogen-based fertilizers, which then enter the soil and water ranching, during which livestock waste releases ammonia into the soil and water * allowing sewage and septic tanks to leach into streams, rivers, and groundwater
Harmful effects of nitrogen deposition The consequences of human-caused nitrogen deposition are profound and influence many aspects of the Earth system, including
*ecosystems: Nitrogen additions to the soil can lead to changes that favor weeds over native plants, which in turn reduces species diversity and changes ecosystems. Research shows that nitrogen levels are linked with changes in grassland species, from mosses and lichens to grasses and flowers.
*precipitation: Nitrogen oxides react with water to form nitric acid, which along with sulfur dioxide is a major component of acid rain. Acid rain can damage and kill aquatic life and vegetation, as well as corrode buildings, bridges, and other structures.
*air quality: High concentrations of nitrogen oxides in the lower atmosphere are a precursor to tropospheric ozone which is known to damage living tissues, including human lungs, and decrease plant production.
*water quality: Adding large amounts of nitrogen to rivers, lakes, and coastal systems results in eutrophication, a condition that occurs in aquatic ecosystems when excessive nutrient concentrations stimulate blooms of algae that deplete oxygen, killing fish and other organisms and ruining water quality. Parts of the Gulf of Mexico, for example, are so inundated with excess fertilizer that the water is clogged with algae, suffocating fish and other marine life.
*carbon cycle: The impacts of nitrogen deposition on the global carbon cycle are uncertain, but it is likely that some ecosystems have been fertilized by additional nitrogen, which may boost their capture and storage of carbon. Sustained carbon sinks are unlikely, however, because soil acidification, ozone pollution, and other negative effects eventually compromise nitrogen-enhanced carbon uptake.