Nutrient Cycling in Marine Ecosystems

  • T. R. Parsons
  • P. J. Harrison
Part of the Encyclopedia of Plant Physiology book series (PLANT, volume 12 / D)


Since seawater contains abundant supplies of certain plant nutrients it may be considered that some nutrients are never limiting to plant growth in the sea. These include elements and compounds such as Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, Cl-, SO 4 2- , as well as water itself, and carbon dioxide (mostly as bicarbonate). In general, it is the concentration of such nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon, iron, and a number of organic substances (e.g. vitamins) that restrict plant growth either because of the low concentration of these elements and compounds or due to their unavailability for algal metabolism. Nitrogen, for example, is present in seawater in large amounts as dissolved N2, but only certain blue-green algae or bacteria can reduce this gas to a metabolic form (e.g. ammonium). Similarly, iron may be present, but in the absence of an organic chelator it may not be readily available to some phytoplankton. The nutrient which is most often cited as causing a limitation of phytoplankton growth in the sea is nitrogen (e.g. Dugdale and Goering 1967; Eppley et al. 1969 b). Because of the importance of nitrogen in the marine environment, particular attention has been given to processes leading to its availability and recycling. In starting with this element, much of the discussion regarding upwelling, terrestrial input, sediment regeneration, etc. may also apply to other elements, particularly phosphorus and silicon. Consequently, the latter elements are considered in less detail at the end of this chapter, in order to avoid repetition.


Nutrient Cycling Phytoplankton Growth Euphotic Zone Nitrate Uptake Marine Phytoplankton 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin · Heidelberg 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. R. Parsons
  • P. J. Harrison

There are no affiliations available

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