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This transformation can be carried out through both biological and physical processes. Important processes in the nitrogen cycle include fixation, mineralization, nitrification, and denitrification. The majority of Earth's atmosphere (78%) is nitrogen, making it the largest pool of nitrogen. However, atmospheric nitrogen has limited availability for biological use, leading to a scarcity of usable nitrogen in many types of ecosystems. The nitrogen cycle is of particular interest to ecologists because nitrogen availability can affect the rate of key ecosystem processes, including primary production and decomposition. Human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, use of artificial nitrogen fertilizers, and release of nitrogen in wastewater have dramatically altered the global nitrogen cycle. A 2011 study found that nitrogen from rocks may also be a significant source of nitrogen, that had not previously been included. The processes of the nitrogen cycle Nitrogen is present in the environment in a wide variety of chemical forms including organic nitrogen, ammonium (NH4+), nitrite (NO2-),nitrate (NO3-), nitrous oxide (N2O), nitric oxide (NO) or inorganic nitrogen gas (N2). Organic nitrogen may be in the form of a living organism, humus or in the intermediate products of organic matter decomposition. The processes of the nitrogen cycle transform nitrogen from one form to another. Many of those processes are carried out by microbes, either in their effort to harvest energy or to accumulate nitrogen in a form needed for their growth. The diagram above shows how these processes fit together to form the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen fixation Main article: Nitrogen fixation Atmospheric nitrogen must be processed, or "fixed" (see page on nitrogen fixation), to be used by plants. Some fixation occurs inlightning strikes, but most fixation is done by free-living or symbiotic bacteria. These bacteria have the nitrogenase enzyme that combines gaseous nitrogen with hydrogen to produce ammonia, which is then further converted by the bacteria to make their ownorganic compounds. Most biological nitrogen fixation occurs by the activity of Mo-nitrogenase, found in a wide variety of bacteria and some Archaea. Mo-nitrogenase is a complex two component enzyme that has multiple metalcontaining prosthetic groups. Some nitrogen fixing bacteria, such as Rhizobium, live in the root nodules of legumes (such as peas or beans). Here they form a mutualisticrelationship with the plant, producing ammonia in exchange for carbohydrates. Nutrient-poor soils can be planted with legumes to enrich them with nitrogen. A few other plants can form such symbioses. Today, about 30% of the total fixed nitrogen is manufactured inammonia chemical plants. Conversion of N2 The conversion of nitrogen (N2) from the atmosphere into a form readily available to plants and hence to animals is an important step in the nitrogen cycle, which distributes the supply of this essential nutrient. There are four ways to convert N2 (atmospheric nitrogen gas) into more chemically reactive forms: 1. Biological fixation: some symbiotic bacteria (most often associated with leguminous plants) and some free-living bacteria are able to fix nitrogen as organic nitrogen. An example of mutualistic nitrogen fixing bacteria are the Rhizobium bacteria, which live in legume root nodules. These species are diazotrophs. An example of the free-living bacteria is Azotobacter. 2. Industrial N-fixation: Under great pressure, at a temperature of 600 C, and with the use of an iron catalyst, hydrogen (usually derived from natural gas or petroleum) and atmospheric nitrogen can be combined to form ammonia (NH3) in the Haber-Boschprocess which is used to make fertilizer and explosives.
This process is performed by bacterial species such as Pseudomonas and Clostridium in anaerobic conditions. which converts ammonia to nitrites (NO2-). Due to their very high solubility. like ammonia. Enzymes Involved: GS: Gln Synthetase (Cytosolic & PLastid) GOGAT: Glu 2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase (Ferredoxin & NADH dependent) GDH: Glu Dehydrogenase: Minor Role in ammonium assimilation. Animals. Ammonification When a plant or animal dies. can fix nitrogen. and because soils are largely unable to retain anions. nucleic acids. While not directly toxic to fish life. 4. some nitrogen is assimilated in the form of ammonium ions directly from the nodules. Nitrogen has contributed to severe eutrophication problems in some water bodies. which release various nitrogen oxides (NOx). Elevated nitrate in groundwater is a concern for drinking water use because nitrate can interfere with blood-oxygen levels in infants and cause methemoglobinemia or blue-baby syndrome. Other processes: In addition. completing the nitrogen cycle. it is first reduced to nitrite ions and then ammonium ions for incorporation into amino acids. Other bacterial species. nitrate can have indirect effects on fish if it contributes to this eutrophication. nitrate-enriched groundwater can contribute to eutrophication. Assimilation Plants take nitrogen from the soil. convert the organic nitrogen within the remains back into ammonium (NH4+). a process that leads to high algal. In the primary stage of nitrification. In plants that have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia. especially blue-green algal populations. All nitrogen obtained by animals can be traced back to the eating of plants at some stage of the food chain. fungi. by absorption through their roots in the form of either nitrate ions or ammonium ions. It is important for the ammonia to be converted to nitrates because accumulated nitrites are toxic to plant life. a process called ammonification or mineralization. Anaerobic ammonium oxidation . They use the nitrate as an electron acceptor in the place of oxygen during respiration. and chlorophyll. the initial form of nitrogen is organic. and otherheterotrophic organisms obtain nitrogen by ingestion of amino acids.3. Since 2006. Where groundwater recharges stream flow. the formation of NO from N2 and O2 due to photons and especially lightning. Plants can absorb nitrate or ammonium ions from the soil via their root hairs. restriction of which is normally considered essential to the recovery of eutrophied waterbodies. or an animal expels waste. such as the Nitrobacter. If nitrate is absorbed. nitrates can enter groundwater. This is occurring along the same lines as control of phosphorus fertilizer. These facultatively anaerobic bacteria can also live in aerobic conditions. the oxidation of ammonium (NH4+) is performed by bacteria such as the Nitrosomonas species. are responsible for the oxidation of the nitrites into nitrates (NO3-). the application of nitrogen fertilizer has been increasingly controlled in Britain and the United States. Important in amino acid catabolism. Nitrification The conversion of ammonia to nitrate is performed primarily by soil-living bacteria and other nitrifying bacteria. Combustion of fossil fuels: automobile engines and thermal power plants. nucleotides and other small organic molecules. Bacteria. Denitrification Denitrification is the reduction of nitrates back into the largely inert nitrogen gas (N2). or fungi in some cases.
Phytoplankton need nitrogen in biologically available forms for the initial synthesis of organic matter. The sinking results in ammonia being introduced at lower depths below the euphotic zone. Marine nitrogen cycle A schematic representing the Marine Nitrogen Cycle The nitrogen cycle is an important process in the ocean as well. These species can only take up nitrogen as NH4+. Ammonification or Mineralization is performed by bacteria to convert the ammonia to ammonium. There are a few notable and well-known exceptions that include Prochlorococcus and some Synechococcus. Coastal zones provide nitrogen from runoff and upwelling occurs readily . This process makes up a major proportion of nitrogen conversion in the oceans. or sinking of waste of vertical migrators. Nitrogen enters the water through precipitation. there are different players and modes of transfer for nitrogen in the ocean. Bacteria are able to convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrate but they are inhibited by light so this must occur below the euphotic zone. This can occur from sinking of phytoplankton. Without supplies of fixed nitrogen entering the marine cycle the fixed nitrogen would be used up in about 2000 years. While the overall cycle is similar. Nitrate can be returned to the euphotic zone by vertical mixing and upwelling where it can be taken up by phytoplankton to continue the cycle. Nitrogen sources are removed from the euphotic zone by the downward movement of the organic matter. runoff. Ammonia and urea are released into the water by excretion from plankton. The nutrients in the ocean are not uniformly distributed. or as N2 from the atmosphere. Nitrogen cannot be utilized by phytoplankton as N2 so it must undergo nitrogen fixation which is performed predominately by cyanobacteria. Areas of upwelling provide supplies of nitrogen from below the euphotic zone. Nitrification can then occur to convert the ammonium to nitrite and nitrate. N2 can be returned to the atmosphere through denitrification. nitrite and ammonium are converted directly into molecular nitrogen (N2) gas.In this biological process. NH4+ is thought to be the preferred source of fixed nitrogen for phytoplankton because its assimilation does not involve a redox reaction and therefore requires little energy. However NO3 is more abundant so most phytoplankton have adapted to have the enzymes necessary to undertake this reduction (nitrate reductase). vertical mixing.
Human influences on the nitrogen cycle As a result of extensive cultivation of legumes (particularly soy. and is currently the third largest contributor to global warming. and from the land to aquatic systems. respired. New production is an important component of the marine environment. alfalfa.along the coast. It can be produced during NO3 assimilation. and clover). Human alterations to the global nitrogen cycle are most intense in developed countries and in Asia. Nitrous oxide (N2O) has risen in the atmosphere as a result of agricultural fertilization. N2O has deleterious effects in the stratosphere. and pollution emitted by vehicles and industrial plants. biomass burning. and denitrification. In the atmosphere nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas. and re-incorporated into organic matter by phytoplankton it is considered recycled/regenerated production.The amount of NH4+ in the ocean is about 3 orders of magnitude less than nitrate. nearly 300 times more potent in its ability to warm the planet. where vehicle emissions and industrial agriculture are highest. They are both rapidly produced and consumed through the water column. In recent years iron has become an important player when discussing ocean dynamics and nutrient cycles. low chlorophyll) regions. the rate at which nitrogen can be taken up by phytoplankton is decreased in oligotrophic waters all year-round and temperate water in the summer resulting in lower primary production. where it breaks down and acts as a catalyst in the destruction of atmospheric ozone. Outside sources are considered to be upwelling from deep water or by nitrogen fixation. This will have a negative effect on the system. there are regions of high surface nitrate but low chlorophyll that are referred to as HNLC (high nitrogen. However. delivered to the water as ammonia. NO2 has the fastest turnover rate. NO2. however. regenerated nitrogen Nitrogen entering the euphotic zone is referred to as new nitrogen because it is newly arrived from outside the productive layer. NH4+ and NO2 show a maximum concentration at 50–80 m (lower end of the euphotic zone) with decreasing concentration below that depth. The distribution of the different forms of nitrogen varies throughout the oceans as well. However. it is immediately consumed again. This distribution can be accounted for by the fact that NO2 and NH4+ are intermediate species. The input of iron varies by region and is delivered to the ocean by dust (from dust storms) and is leached out of rocks. after carbon dioxide and methane. The new nitrogen can come from below the euphotic zone or from outside sources. nitrification. As of now the best explanation for HNLC regions relates to iron limitation in the ocean. and NO3. If the organic matter is eaten. Between NH4+. if fish are harvested from areas of new nitrogen the nitrogen will be replenished. and industrial sources. While not as abundant in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. humans have significantly contributed to the transfer of nitrogen trace gases from Earth to the atmosphere. Iron is under consideration as the true limiting element in the ocean. human beings have more than doubled the annual transfer of nitrogen into biologicallyavailable forms. Nitrate is depleted in near-surface water except in upwelling regions. it is for an equivalent mass. Coastal upwelling regions usually have high nitrate and chlorophyll levels as a result of the increased production. New vs. Harvesting fish from regenerated nitrogen areas will lead to a decrease in nitrogen and therefore a decrease in primary production. . In addition. growing use of the Haber-Bosch process in the creation of chemical fertilizers. One reason is that only continual input of new nitrogen can determine the total capacity of the ocean to produce a sustainable fish harvest. cattle and feedlots. However.
fish. which weakens productivity and can damage the health of plants. where it acts as anaerosol. Ecosystemprocesses can increase with nitrogen fertilization. damages plants and increases nitrogen inputs to ecosystems. They are precursors of tropospheric (lower atmosphere) ozone production. but so are biofuels and even the burning of hydrogen. Atmospheric ammonia and nitric acid damage respiratory systems. All forms of high-temperature combustion have contributed to a 6 or 7 fold increase in the flux of NOx to the atmosphere. Decreases in biodiversity can also result if higher nitrogen availability increases nitrogen-demanding grasses. which contributes to smog. decreasing air quality and clinging to water droplets. Fossil fuel combustion is a primary contributor. and HNO3. Ammonia and nitrous oxides actively alter atmospheric chemistry. The higher combustion temperature of hydrogen produces more NOxthan natural gas combustion.the higher the temperature. eventually resulting in nitric acid (HNO3) that produces acid rain. . but anthropogenic input can also result in nitrogen saturation.Ammonia (NH3) in the atmosphere has tripled as the result of human activities. The very-high temperature of lightning produces small amounts of NOx. causing a degradation of nitrogen-poor. Its production is a function of combustion temperature . NH3. and acid rain. It is a reactant in the atmosphere. species diverse heathlands. animals. and humans. the more NOx is produced.
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