Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies


A global synthesis of stable isotope values of nitrogen (δ15N) in lake sediments has produced a 15,000 year long record of global changes in nitrogen cycling.  The work was conducted by Elizabeth S. Jeffers (James Martin Research Fellow in the Biodiversity Institute Oxford) with Kendra K. McLauchlan (Kansas State University), Joseph C. Craine (Kansas State University) and Joseph J. Williams (Aberystwyth University) and published in 21 March 2013 edition of Nature.

The results show that sediment δ15N values (a proxy for N availability in ecosystems) declined globally from 15,000 to 8,000 cal. yrs. BP, concurrent with rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations and terrestrial carbon accumulation. However, recent rises in atmospheric CO2 were not associated with a globally-consistent change in N availability.  It is likely that deposition of reactive N from widespread use of artificial fertilizers and fossil fuel burning over the last 50-100 years is offsetting any increase in demand for N by plants caused by CO2 fertilization.

The full article, McLauchlan, KK, J.J. Williams, J.M. Craine and E.S. Jeffers (2013) Changes in global nitrogen cycling during the Holocene epoch. Nature 495:352-355. can be accessed here

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