Nutrient Cycles

MACRONUTRIENTS: The nutrients, or elements used by all organisms for growth and reproduction, are termed essential elements or macronutrients, and include
Carbon (C) Oxygen (O) Phosphorus (P) Sulphur (S) Potassium (K) Magnesium (Mg). Hydrogen (H) Nitrogen (N), Sodium (Na) Chlorine (Cl), Calcium (Ca)

Nutrient or Biogeochemical Cycle
• The flow of a nutrient from the environment to living organisms

and back to the environment

The cyclic flow of nutrients between the biotic

and abiotic components is known as nutrient cycle
(or) biogeochemical cycles.
• Main reservoir for the nutrient is in the environment

Biogeochemical cycles
• • • • • Water Carbon Nitrogen Phosphorous Oxygen cycle

Hydrological or water Cycle
• The water cycle is solar-powered Movement of water in a cyclic manner is known as hydrological cycle. • The water cycle consumes one-fourth of the total solar energy striking the earth during a year:
– Precipitation over land exceeds evaporation by 40 teratons/yr; surplus returns to the ocean in rivers – Evaporation over the oceans exceeds precipitation by 40 teratons/yr; surplus is delivered by winds to the land masses

The carbon cycle is linked to global energy flux.
• The carbon cycle is the focal point of biological energy transformations. • Principal classes of carbon-cycling processes:
– assimilatory/dissimilatory processes (mainly photosynthesis and respiration) – exchange of CO2 between atmosphere and oceans – sedimentation of carbonates

Global Carbon Cycle

• The chief reservoirs for carbon dioxide are in the oceans and in rock. • Carbon dioxide dissolves readily in water. • It may precipitate as a solid rock known as calcium carbonate (limestone). • Corals and algae encourage this reaction and build up limestone reefs in the process Sources of CO2 in atmosphere During respiration, plants and animals liberates CO2 in the atmosphere. Combustion of fuels also release CO2, Volcanic eruptions also release CO2,

On land and in the water, plants take up carbon dioxide and convert it into carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Carbon returns to the physical environment in a number of ways. Both plants and animals respire, so they release CO2 during respiration. • Another route of CO2 back to the physical environment occurs through the death of plants and animals. • When organisms die, decomposers consume their bodies. • In the process, some of the carbon returns to the physical environment by way of fossilization.

Generalized Model of Element Cycling

Human Changes in CO2
• Linked to combustion of forests, fossil fuels • Increased CO2 acts to increase atmospheric heat retenion “global warming”, 1 C change already noted, could increase 3 to 6 degrees over the next few centuries

Nitrogen - A Most Versatile Element!
• Ultimate source (largest reservoir) of this essential element is molecular N2 gas (78%) in the atmosphere, which can also dissolve in water to some extent. • Nitrogen is absent from native rock. • Nitrogen enters biological pathways through nitrogen fixation:
– these pathways are more complicated than those of the carbon cycle because nitrogen has more oxidized and reduced forms than carbon

The N2 from the atmosphere is. taken up by the green plants as a raw material for biosynthesis of different foods (amino acids, proteins, vitamins) and used in metabolism

After death of the plants and animals, the organic nitrogen in dead tissues is decomposed by several micro organisms (ammonifying and nitrifying bacteria) into ammonia, nitrites and nitrates, which are again used by the plants. Some bacteria convert nitrates into molecular nitrogen which is again released back into atmosphere and the cycle goes on. Proteins, nucleic acids, and other organic chemicals contain nitrogen, so nitrogen is a very important atom in biological organisms

Nitrogen fixing bacteria in roots

Biological Nitrogen Fixation
• Biological nitrogen fixation (by bacteria and cyanobacteria) is essential to counterbalancing N losses associated with denitrification. • Nitrogen is often implicated as a limiting nutrient in terrestrial and aquatic systems. • Nitrogen fixation is critical to ecosystem development in primary succession. • Continued nitrogen input is essential for long-term health of natural ecosystems.

Nutrient regeneration occurs in soils.
• Nutrients are added to the soil through weathering of bedrock or other parent material. • How fast does such weathering occur?
– estimates can be made for positive ions such as Ca2+, K+, Na+, and Mg2+ – at equilibrium, net losses must be balanced by replenishment from weathering

Quality of detritus influences the rate of nutrient regeneration.
• Weathering is insufficient to supply plants with essential elements (Ca, Mg, K, Na, N, P, S, etc.) at the rates required. • Rapid regeneration of these elements from detritus is essential for ecosystem function. • In forests, detritus is abundant:
– includes plant debris, animal excreta, etc. – >90% of plant biomass enters detritus pool

Input of leaves

Breakdown of Leaf Litter
• Breakdown is a complex process:
– leaching of soluble minerals:
• 10-30% of substances in leaves are water-soluble

– consumption by large detritivores:
• assimilate 3-40% of energy • macerate detritus, speeding microbial activity

– breakdown of woody components by fungi – decomposition of residue by bacteria

Decomposition by fungi

Quality of Plant Detritus
• Litter of various species decays at different rates:
– weight loss in 1 yr for broadleaved species varied from 21% for beech to 64% for mulberry – needles of pines and other conifers decompose slowly – resistance to decay is largely a function of composition, especially lignins, which resist decay

• Fungi play special roles in degrading resistant materials:
– fungi especially capable of degrading cellulose, lignins

Climate and Nutrient Regeneration
• Nutrient cycling is affected by climate:
– temperate and tropical ecosystems differ because of effects of climate on:
• weathering • soil properties • decomposition of detritus

• In temperate soils, organic matter provides a persistent supply of mineral elements released slowly by decomposition.

A Tropical Paradox
• Tropical forests are highly productive in spite of infertile soils:
– tropical soils are typically:
• deeply weathered • have little clay • do not retain nutrients well

– high productivity is supported by:
• rapid regeneration of nutrients form detritus • rapid uptake of nutrients • efficient retention of nutrients by plants/mycorrhizae

Slash-and-Burn Agriculture
• Cutting and burning of vegetation initiates the cycle:
– nutrients are released from felled and burned vegetation – 2-3 years of crop growth possible – fertility rapidly declines as nutrients are leached – upward movement of water draws iron and aluminum oxides upward, resulting in laterite

Slash and Burn Agriculture in Tropics

Is Slash-and-burn sustainable?
• Traditional agriculture is sustainable:
– 2-3 years of cropping depletes soil – 50-100 years of forest regeneration rebuilds soil quality

• Population pressures lead to acceleration of the cycle:
– soils are insufficiently replenished – soils deteriorate rapidly, requiring expensive fertilizer subsidies

Vegetation and Soil Fertility
• Vegetation is critical to development and maintenance of soil fertility:
– clear-cutting of an experimental watershed at Hubbard Brook, NH resulted in:
• several-fold increase in stream flow • 3- to 20-fold increase in cation losses • shift from nitrogen storage to massive nitrogen loss:
– uncut system gained 1-3 kg N ha-1 yr-1 – clear-cut system lost 54 kg N ha-1 yr-1

Experimental watershed clearcutting to study nutrient dynamics

Fig. 47-17a, p.854

Experimental watershed clearcutting to study nutrient dynamics

Stream Gauges

Stream Weir Measures water

Fig. 47-17c, p.854

Hubbard Brook Experiment
losses from disturbed watershed

time of deforestation

losses from undisturbed watershed

Figure 47-17 Page 854

Soil versus Vegetation Stocks of Nutrients
• Litter and other detritus do not form a large reserve of nutrients in the tropics:
– forest floor litter as percentage of vegetation plus detritus:
• 20% in temperate needle-leaved forests • 5% in temperate hardwood forests • 1-2% in tropical forests

– soil to biomass ratio for phosphorus in forests is 23.1 in Belgium, 0.1 in Ghana

Nutrient Retention by Vegetation
• Retention of nutrients by vegetation is crucial to sustained productivity in tropics. • Plants retain nutrients by:
– retaining leaves – withdrawing nutrients before leaves are dropped – developing dense root mats near soil surface

Eutrophic and Oligotrophic Soils
• Tropics have both rich and poor soils:
– eutrophic (rich) soils develop in geologically active areas with young soils where:
• erosion is high • rapid weathering of bedrock adds nutrients

– oligotrophic (poor) soils develop in old, geologically stable areas with old soils where:
• intense weathering of soils removes clay and reduces storage capacity for nutrients