Nutrient cycling

I work on soil biogeochemical cycling in wet soils, which I understand is basically French to an English only speaker. Biogeochemical cycling and nutrient cycling are basically the same thing – biogeochemistry simple means any natural chemical reaction in the environment that has something to do with ‘life’ while nutrient cycling is a suite of chemical reactions that involve plant nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

So why are they cycles?

At the simplest level, elements cannot be created or destroyed in the environment. This means everything that goes into an organism is either retained or lost to the environments. Atoms bounce around in the environment for a bit, and then might be consumed, retained or lost again. If we take the nitrogen cycle for example, most nitrogen is in the atmosphere. From here it can be converted into mineral nitrogen by microbes, consumed by plants, converted into protein, consumed by animals, pooped out into the environment, converted into mineral nitrogen (again, by microbes) and then lost back to the atmosphere.

Why are wet soils interesting?

Chemistry in dry systems happens very slowly. Things generally have to be touching, or irradiated, or hot in order for chemistry to happen without water. Wet soils are cool because not only can things live in them, but chemistry can happen very quickly all of its own accord. Water with no oxygen causes different organisms and different chemical reactions to water with oxygen. This means you can have completely different soil environments sitting right next to each other….