Ecological Research

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 955–964 | Cite as

Ecological risks in anthropogenic disturbance of nitrogen cycles in natural terrestrial ecosystems

Special Feature Ecological risk management


Anthropogenic addition of reactive nitrogen (Nr) to the biosphere is increasing globally and some terrestrial ecosystems are suffering from a state of excess Nr for biological nitrogen (N) demand, termed N saturation. Here, we review the ecological risks in relation to N saturation and prospective responses to N saturation. Excess Nr increases the risks of local extinction of rare plant species, encouragement of exotic plant species, disturbance of nutrient balance in plant organs, and increase of herbivory in plant communities. On the ecosystem scale, excess bioavailable N induces forest decline, disturbance of nutrient cycling within ecosystems, depending on vegetation, soil, land-use, and N-loading history. These Nr risks will increase in the Asian region, where impacts of Nr in natural terrestrial ecosystems have been scarcely studied. Whether much of the terrestrial ecosystems on a global level are in the sate of N saturation or not is still controversial, but the potential risks of excess Nr seem to be increasing. The fundamental ways to mitigate Nr risks are to reduce Nr production, prevent Nr translocation, and promote conversion of Nr to N2. Temporal, but promising actions against ecological N risks may include management of forests and riparian zones, and carbon addition in grassland.


Reactive nitrogen (Nr) Nitrogen saturation Forest ecosystem Vegetation change Ecosystem management 



This study was supported by the twenty-first Century Centers of Excellence Program (Environmental Risk Management for Bio/Eco-Systems), Global Centers of Excellence Program (Global Eco-Risk Management from Asian Viewpoints) and Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C19570017), from the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Japan.


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© The Ecological Society of Japan 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Environment and Information SciencesYokohama National UniversityYokohamaJapan

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