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Ecosystem

The Nitrogen Cycle

The letter N for nitrogen
The nitrogen cycle describes how nitrogen moves between plants, animals, bacteria, the atmosphere (the air), and soil in the ground. Nitrogen is an important element to all life on Earth.

Different Nitrogen States

For Nitrogen to be used by different life forms on Earth, it must change into different states. Nitrogen in the atmosphere, or air, is N2. Other important states of nitrogen include Nitrates (N03), Nitrites (NO2), and Ammonium (NH4).

Nitrogen Cycle

This picture shows the flow of the nitrogen cycle. The most important part of the cycle is bacteria. Bacteria help the nitrogen change between states so it can be used. When nitrogen is absorbed by the soil, different bacteria help it to change states so it can be absorbed by plants. Animals then get their nitrogen from the plants.


Diagram of the nitrogen cycle


Processes in the Nitrogen Cycle Why is nitrogen important to life?

Plants and animals could not live without nitrogen. It is an important part of many cells and processes such as amino acids, proteins, and even our DNA. It is also needed to make chlorophyll in plants, which plants use in photosynthesis to make their food and energy.

How have humans altered the nitrogen cycle?

Unfortunately, human activity has altered the cycle. We do this by adding nitrogen into the soil with fertilizer as well as other activities that put more nitrous oxide gas into the atmosphere. This adds in more nitrogen than is needed by normal cycle and upsets the cycle's balance.

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