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Issues in Ecology, Issue 15: Excess Nitrogen in the U.S. Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions

It is not surprising that humans have profoundly altered the global nitrogen (N) cycle in an effort to feed 7 billion people, because nitrogen is an essential plant and animal nutrient. Food and energy production from agriculture, combined with industrial and energy sources, have more than doubled the amount of reactive nitrogen circulating annually on land. Humanity has disrupted the nitrogen cycle even more than the carbon (C) cycle. We present new research results showing widespread effects on ecosystems, biodiversity, human health, and climate, suggesting that in spite of decades of research quantifying the negative consequences of too much available nitrogen in the biosphere, solutions remain elusive. There have been important successes in reducing nitrogen emissions to the atmosphere and this has improved air quality. Effective solutions for reducing nitrogen losses from agriculture have also been identified, although political and economic impediments to their adoption remain.
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Resource Group ESA's Issues in Ecology series.
Resource Group Link
Primary or BEN resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle, agriculture, climate change
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Description This report can be used for general information, classroom reading and discussion, and as a springboard for more information research. The report illustrates applications of ecology as it relates to our society and environment.
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation The Woods Hole Research
Primary Author email n/a
Secondary Author Name(s) Mark B. David, James N. Galloway, et al.
Secondary Author Affiliation(s) University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, Department of Natural
Resources and Environmental Sciences

Environmental Sciences
Department, University of Virginia
Rights Copyright 2012 by Eric A. Davidson, Mark B. David, James N. Galloway, Christine L. Goodale, Richard Haeuber, John A. Harrison, Robert W. Howarth, Dan B. Jaynes, R. Richard Lowrance, B. Thomas Nolan, Jennifer L. Peel, Robert W. Pinder, Ellen Porter, Clifford S. Snyder, Alan R. Townsend, and Mary H. Ward and the Ecological Society of America.
Date Of Record Submission 2012-01-27

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