Nitrogen is required by living things to:

1. make proteins, become enzymes and make up the structures of living things
2. make nucleic acids that become DNA, the hereditary material of living things

– 80% of the air around us is nitrogen gas (N2) but N2 cannot be used by most living things
– N2 must be converted into nitrate ions (NO3) for living things to be able to use nitrogen

Nitrogen Cycle

– begins with nitrogen fixation; nitrogen gas is converted into nitrates


– can fix nitrogen; N2 reacts with O2 -> NO3
– accounts for only a very small amount of total nitrogen fixation in the ecosystem
Bacteria (some) – located in soil and in nodules on the roots of legume plants
– accounts for the vast majority of nitrogen fixation in an ecosystem

Decomposers (bacteria)

– break down animal waste nitrogen (NH3) and nitrogen trapped in the dead bodies of living things
– these bacteria require oxygen to live
– this is why farmers add manure or dead matter to their crops/plants


– lose of nitrates in the form of nitrogen gas
– done by bacteria that do not require oxygen
– ensures a balance within the nitrogen cycle; nitrate levels in soil that are too high may be bad for the plants in an ecosystem
– sped up by very acid or water-logged soils

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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