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Tropical Forests Leak Nitrogen Back Into Atmosphere, Say Scientists

Date:
May 23, 2006
Source:
Princeton University
Summary:
In findings that could influence our understanding of climate change, a Princeton research team has learned that tropical forests return to the atmosphere up to half the nitrogen they receive each year, thanks to a particular type of bacteria that lives in those forests.

In findings that could influence our understanding of climate change, a Princeton research team has learned that tropical forests return to the atmosphere up to half the nitrogen they receive each year, thanks to a particular type of bacteria that lives in those forests.

The bacteria, referred to as "denitrifiers," exist in forest soil, where they live by converting the nitrates fed upon by tree roots back into nitrogen gas, which is lost to the atmosphere. The researchers who recently discovered this behavior say the findings are important for our understanding of how tropical forests fit into the earth's climate system.

"Tropical forests play a major role in regulating the planet's climate, and these findings indicate that we are still working on our basic understanding of the nitrogen cycle," said Lars Hedin, a researcher on the team and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. "That a group of bacteria can have such a dramatic impact on forest nutrition debunks our previous theories about how nitrogen behaves in forests, and shows us that these microorganisms affect soil nutrients and forest growth."

The team, which also includes first author Benjamin Houlton, a student from Hedin's lab now doing postdoctoral work at Stanford, and Daniel Sigman, a Princeton professor of geosciences, will publish their findings in the May 22 issue of the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hedin is available for comment at (609) 558-9096.


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The above story is based on materials provided by Princeton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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Princeton University. "Tropical Forests Leak Nitrogen Back Into Atmosphere, Say Scientists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060523072520.htm>.
Princeton University. (2006, May 23). Tropical Forests Leak Nitrogen Back Into Atmosphere, Say Scientists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060523072520.htm
Princeton University. "Tropical Forests Leak Nitrogen Back Into Atmosphere, Say Scientists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060523072520.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

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