Thompson Rivers University

Environmental Science Seminar Series – Dr. Rachel Mason

Title: Evidence, causes, and consequences of a global decline in available nitrogen

Speaker: Dr. Rachel Mason – Assistant Research Scientist, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (University of Maryland)

Abstract: Nitrogen (N) is both necessary for life and potentially harmful to it, so the amount and distribution of reactive forms of nitrogen around the world is an important matter. While N is often viewed as a pollutant (think fertilizer runoff and ocean dead zones), there are reasons to expect that rising atmospheric CO2 and a warming climate will render N less accessible as a nutrient for plants and micro-organisms. In this talk I will summarize the evidence, from sources ranging from pollen chemistry to satellite imaging to spectroscopy of cattle manure, that N is indeed becoming less available in ecosystems to which it  is not being added through human activities. N is a vital component of protein in plants, so I will also outline how lower N availability may contribute to insect population declines and locust swarms, affect the livelihoods of grazing livestock producers, and put humans at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

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