, Volume 79, Issue 1, pp 109-133

First online:

Urban influences on the nitrogen cycle in Puerto Rico

  • Jorge R. Ortiz-ZayasAffiliated withInstitute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies Email author 
  • , Elvira CuevasAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Puerto Rico
  • , Olga L. Mayol-BraceroAffiliated withInstitute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies
  • , Loreto DonosoAffiliated withInstituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC)
  • , Ivonne TrebsAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Chemistry
  • , Debora Figueroa-NievesAffiliated withUniversity of New Hampshire
  • , William H. McDowellAffiliated withUniversity of New Hampshire

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Anthropogenic actions are altering fluxes of nitrogen (N) in the biosphere at unprecedented rates. Efforts to study these impacts have concentrated in the Northern hemisphere, where experimental data are available. In tropical developing countries, however, experimental studies are lacking. This paper summarizes available data and assesses the impacts of human activities on N fluxes in Puerto Rico, a densely populated Caribbean island that has experienced drastic landscape transformations over the last century associated with rapid socioeconomic changes. N yield calculations conducted in several watersheds of different anthropogenic influences revealed that disturbed watersheds export more N per unit area than undisturbed forested watersheds. Export of N from urban watersheds ranged from 4.8 kg ha−1 year−1 in the Río Bayamón watershed to 32.9 kg ha−1 year−1 in the highly urbanized Río Piedras watershed and 33.3 kg ha−1 year−1 in the rural-agricultural Río Grande de Añasco watershed. Along with land use, mean annual runoff explained most of the variance in fluvial N yield. Wastewater generated in the San Juan Metropolitan Area receives primary treatment before it is discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. These discharges are N-rich and export large amounts of N to the ocean at a rate of about 140 kg ha−1 year−1. Data on wet deposition of inorganic N (\(\hbox{NH}_{4}^{+}+\hbox{NO}_{3}^{-}\)) suggest that rates of atmospheric N deposition are increasing in the pristine forests of Puerto Rico. Stationary and mobile sources of NO x (NO+NO2) and N2O generated in the large urban centers may be responsible for this trend. Comprehensive measurements are required in Puerto Rico to quantitatively characterize the local N cycle. More research is required to assess rates of atmospheric N deposition, N fixation in natural and human-dominated landscapes, N-balance associated with food and feed trade, and denitrification.


Nitrogen Peurto Rico Urbanization Land use change Waste water disposal Atmospheric nitrogen deposition Caribbean Water quality Air quality