Recent research by the Université de Montréal (Canada) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (Millbrook, New York) has revealed an important, but seldom accounted for, withdrawal in the global nitrogen cycle: commercial fisheries. Results, published as the cover story in the February issue of Nature Geoscience, highlight the role that fisheries play in removing nitrogen from coastal oceans.
Nitrogen is essential to plant and animal life; however, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. During the past century, a range of human activities have increased nitrogen inputs to coastal waters. Fertilizer run-off is the best documented and most significant source of terrestrial nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer applied to farmland eventually makes its way into coastal waters via a network of streams and rivers.Research spearheaded by Roxane Maranger (Université de Montréal) and Nina Caraco (Cary Institute) demonstrates that commercial fisheries play an important but declining role in removing terrestrial nitrogen from coastal waters. Accounting for this withdrawal is crucial; terrestrial-derived nitrogen can stimulate coastal phytoplankton growth, leading to eutrophication. Eutrophic waters are characterized by reduced dissolved oxygen, decreased biodiversity, and species composition shifts.
A continued decline in the proportion of nitrogen withdrawn by fishery harvests will contribute to an increase in the balance of nitrogen in coastal waters. From a historical perspective, this is bad news. Throughout the world, these ecosystems are becoming richer in nitrogen, resulting in increased phytoplankton blooms, anoxic bottom waters, and coastal dead zones.
To learn more, visit: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/index.html
Roxane Maranger can be reached at: email@example.com, or by calling (514) 343-7779
Nina Caraco can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (845) 677-7600 x134
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