Nitrogen cycle

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The nitrogen cycle is the process by which nitrogen is converted between its various chemical forms. This transformation can be carried out via both biological and non-biological processes. Important processes in the nitrogen cycle include fixation, mineralization, nitrification, and denitrification. The majority of Earth's atmosphere (approximately 78%) is nitrogen,[1] making it the largest pool of nitrogen. However, atmospheric nitrogen is unavailable 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.

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Ecological function

Nitrogen is essential for many processes; it is crucial for any life on Earth. It is in all amino acids, is incorporated into proteins, and is present in the bases that make up nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA. In plants, much of the nitrogen is used in chlorophyll molecules, which are essential for photosynthesis and further growth.[2] Although earth’s atmosphere is an abundant source of nitrogen, most is relatively unusable by plants[3]. Chemical processing, or natural fixation (through processes such as bacterial conversion--see rhizobium), are necessary to convert gaseous nitrogen into forms usable by living organisms. This makes nitrogen a crucial part of food production. The abundance or scarcity of this "fixed" form of nitrogen, (also known as reactive nitrogen), dictates how much food can be grown on a piece of land.

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