Trace element plays major role in tropical forest nitrogen cycle
March 22, 2012
Athens, Ga. - A new paper by researchers from the University of Georgia and Princeton University sheds light on the critical part played by a little-studied element, molybdenum, in the nutrient cycles of tropical forests. Understanding the role of molybdenum may help scientists more accurately predict how tropical forests will respond to climate change. The findings were published March 21 in the journal PLoS ONE.
Nutrient cycles track the movement of essential nutrients as they loop through the environment, into plants and animals and back into the environment. One of the most important of these nutrients is nitrogen.
"The main way that new nitrogen is added to an ecosystem is through a process called nitrogen fixation," said Nina Wurzburger, assistant professor in the UGA Odum School of Ecology and the paper's lead author. "Bacteria in the soil can pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it into a form available for themselves and for plants. They do this by creating an enzyme called nitrogenase."
For years, it was assumed that the element phosphorus was the key ingredient bacteria in the soil needed to make this enzyme work. Now Wurzburger and her colleagues Jean Philippe Bellenger, Anne M.L. Kraepiel and Lars O. Hedin of Princeton University have found that although phosphorus is indeed important to the process, another element-molybdenum-is also crucial.