The marine nitrogen cycle: new developments and global change

The ocean is home to a diverse and metabolically versatile microbial community that performs the complex biochemical transformations that drive the nitrogen cycle, including nitrogen fixation, assimilation, nitrification and nitrogen loss processes. In this Review, we discuss the wealth of new ocean nitrogen cycle research in disciplines from metaproteomics to global biogeochemical modelling and in environments from productive estuaries to the abyssal deep sea. Influential recent discoveries include new microbial functional groups, novel metabolic pathways, original conceptual perspectives and ground-breaking analytical capabilities. These emerging research directions are already contributing to urgent efforts to address the primary challenge facing marine microbiologists today: the unprecedented onslaught of anthropogenic environmental change on marine ecosystems. Ocean warming, acidification, nutrient enrichment and seawater stratification have major effects on the microbial nitrogen cycle, but widespread ocean deoxygenation is perhaps the most consequential for the microorganisms involved in both aerobic and anaerobic nitrogen transformation pathways. In turn, these changes feed back to the global cycles of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. At a time when our species casts a lengthening shadow across all marine ecosystems, timely new advances offer us unique opportunities to understand and better predict human impacts on nitrogen biogeochemistry in the changing ocean of the Anthropocene.

Hutchins D. A. & Capone D. G., in press. The marine nitrogen cycle: new developments and global change. Nature Reviews Microbiology. Article (subscription required).

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