Nutrient cycle


A nutrient cycle (or ecological recycling) is the movement and exchange of organic and inorganic matter back into the production of matter. Energy flow is a unidirectional and noncyclic pathway, whereas the movement of mineral nutrients is cyclic. Mineral cycles include the carbon cycle, sulfur cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, phosphorus cycle, oxygen cycle, among others that continually recycle along with other mineral nutrients into productive ecological nutrition.
There is much overlap between the terms for the biogeochemical cycle and nutrient cycle. Most textbooks integrate the two and seem to treat them as synonymous terms. However, the terms often appear independently. Nutrient cycle is more often used in direct reference to the idea of an intra-system cycle, where an ecosystem functions as a unit. From a practical point, it does not make sense to assess a terrestrial ecosystem by considering the full column of air above it as well as the great depths of Earth below it. While an ecosystem often has no clear boundary, as a working model it is practical to consider the functional community where the bulk of matter and energy transfer occurs. Nutrient cycling occurs in ecosystems that participate in the "larger biogeochemical cycles of the earth through a system of inputs and outputs.
Ecosystems execute closed loop recycling where demand for the nutrients that adds to the growth of biomass exceeds supply within that system. There are regional and spatial differences in the rates of growth and exchange of materials, where some ecosystems may be in nutrient debt (sinks) where others will have extra supply (sources). These differences relate to climate, topography, and geological history leaving behind different sources of parent material. In terms of a food web, a cycle or loop is defined as "a directed sequence of one or more links starting from, and ending at, the same species." An example of this is the microbial food web in the ocean, where "bacteria are exploited, and controlled, by protozoa, including heterotrophic microflagellates which are in turn exploited by ciliates. This grazing activity is accompanied by excretion of substances which are in turn used by the bacteria so that the system more or less operates in a closed circuit.
Earthworms, for example, passively and mechanically alter the nature of soil environments. Bodies of dead worms passively contribute mineral nutrients to the soil. The worms also mechanically modify the physical structure of the soil as they crawl about (bioturbation), digest on the molds of organic matter they pull from the soil litter. These activities transport nutrients into the mineral layers of soil. Worms discard wastes that create worm castings containing undigested materials where bacteria and other decomposers gain access to the nutrients. The earthworm is employed in this process and the production of the ecosystem depends on their capability to create feedback loops in the recycling process.
Nutrient cycling has a historical foothold in the writings of Charles Darwin in reference to the decomposition actions of earthworms. Darwin wrote about "the continued Following the Greeks, the idea of a hydrological cycle (water is considered a nutrient) was validated and quantified by Halley in 1687.
Water is also a nutrient. In this context, some authors also refer to precipitation recycling, which "is the contribution of evaporation within a region to precipitation in that same region." These variations on the theme of nutrient cycling continue to be used and all refer to processes that are part of the global biogeochemical cycles. However, authors tend to refer to natural, organic, ecological, or bio-recycling in reference to the work of nature, such as it is used in organic farming or ecological agricultural systems.