WHAT ARE NUTRIENTS?
Nutrients are ‘elements’ (types of matter that make up everything we see and feel). All plants and animals require these for growth. As organisms (plants and animals) grow and die, nutrients get passed from their bodies back into the ground. This forms a nutrient cycle.
The most important nutrients are Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. These make up 98% of all living things. These nutrients mix to form Carbon dioxide (a gas that makes up part of the air) and water. Other key nutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. The cycling of these nutrients is very important to many of nature’s processes.
The nutrient cycle involves the movement of nutrients from the environment into plants and animals, and back again.
Nutrients in the soil are taken up by plants. These plants get eaten by animals and humans. When organisms die they decay, and these nutrients are released back into the environment.
IMPORTANCE OF NUTRIENT CYCLING
Nutrient cycling is important as it allows nutrients to change from gases to solids, and back again. These changes allow organisms to eat, breathe and grow.
These cycles also allow nutrients to be moved between different places. Some nutrients like Nitrogen are mostly found in the air. Nutrient cycling allows nitrogen to pass into the soil so that it can be used by plants to help them grow.
Humans can affect the flow of nutrient cycles. Through farming nutrients can be removed from the land through soil erosion. This can reduce the health of soil and lead to problems of desertification (fertile land being eroded into desert).
Animal manure (dung) can be used as a fertiliser (material mixed into soil to add nutrients) to restore nutrients back to the soil. However, nutrients removed from the land can enter water sources. Too many nutrients within water sources can cause pollution harming plants and animals that live there. These cause large growth of algae (tiny organisms that feed on sunlight) at the water surface. These remove lots of oxygen from the water causing other organisms (mainly fish) to die.
Humans can create artificial (man-made) fertilisers. These cost a lot of money to make however and can add even more nutrients to water sources after erosion.