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the continuous sequence of events by which atmospheric nitrogen and nitrogenous compounds in the soil are converted, as by nitrification and nitrogen fixation, into substances that can be utilized by green plants, the substances returning to the air and soil as a result of the decay of the plants and denitrification.
the natural circulation of nitrogen by living organisms. Nitrates in the soil, derived from dead organic matter by bacterial action, are absorbed and synthesized into complex organic compounds by plants and reduced to nitrates again when the plants and the animals feeding on them die and decay See nitrification, nitrogen fixation

nitrogen cycle n.

nitrogen cycle
The continuous process by which nitrogen is exchanged between organisms and the environment. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient, needed to make amino acids and other important organic compounds, but most organisms cannot use free nitrogen, which is abundant as a gas in the atmosphere. Gaseous nitrogen is broken apart and fixed (converted to stable, biologically assimilable inorganic compounds) in the process of nitrogen fixation. Some atmospheric nitrogen is fixed naturally during lightning strikes and some by industrial processes. Cyanobacteria and certain other species of bacteria, especially those living as symbionts in the roots of legumes, fix atmospheric nitrogen biologically in ammonium ions. Ammonia and ammonium ions are also produced by the ongoing decay of organic materials. Ammonia can be absorbed directly by plant cells, and certain bacteria living in soil and water convert ammonia and ammonium ions into nitrites and nitrates in the process known as nitrification. The nitrates are easily absorbed by plant roots. In this way, nitrogen is passed into the food chain and ultimately returned to the soil, water, and atmosphere by the metabolism and decay of plants and animals.


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  • Nitrogen distribution

    nitrogen distribution n. See nitrogen partition.

  • Nitrogen equivalent

    nitrogen equivalent n. The nitrogen content of protein, used in calculating the grams of protein metabolized by the body as a function of the grams of nitrogen excreted in the urine.

  • Nitrogen-fixation

    noun 1. any process of combining atmospheric nitrogen with other elements, either by chemical means or by bacterial action: used chiefly in the preparation of fertilizers, industrial products, etc. 2. this process as performed by certain bacteria found in the nodules of leguminous plants, which make the resulting nitrogenous compounds available to their host plants. […]

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