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Nutrient cycling rates

  • Biodiversity

  • Function


Spatial variation in nutrient supply rates can influence the distribution of organisms (Gravel et al. 2010). Cycles of key nutrients underpin persistence of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and delivery of ecosystem services (Lavelle et al. 2005). Simplification of landscapes and habitat loss has disrupted natural nutrient cycles and agriculture can lead to nutrient oversupply and leakiness or nutrient depletion (Lavelle et al. 2005). Diversity of species and functional groups are required to maintain nutrient cycles (Chapin III et al. 2000, Lavelle et al. 2005). Alterations in nutrient cycling are observed from plot to landscape scales and are driven by small- to large-scale mechanisms (Lavelle et al. 2005).

Methodology summary

Indicators at different scales have been suggested (Lavelle et al. 2005):

  • Micro – soils (maturity index), diversity in microfoodweb communities (microfauna, mesofauna)
  • Ecosystem – physical structure of soils/sediments, bioindicators of soil quality, nutrient balance at plot level, decomposition rates, invertebrates as bioindicators of soil quality, distribution of organic matter in particle size fractions, chemical analysis of plant material, soil texture, soil porosity, soil aggregation
  • Landscape – monitoring nutrient concentrations along soil profiles, landscape composition, eutrophication, erosion rates

See Soil Health metrics: Texture, Soil Structure, Nutrient analysis, Electrical conductivity, Earthworm abundance, biomass and diversity, Litter decomposition, Cation exchange capacity, Soil respiration, and N mineralisation.

More complex modelling approaches have been used to couple Net Primary Productivity and stoichiometry of leaves, wood, and fine root tissue for quantification of flows of nutrients (Malhi et al. 2021).

Metric threshold or direction of change

Mechanisms between landscape features, biodiversity and nutrient cycles are not well understood. Thresholds for degradation are not well established. (Lavelle et al 2005).

Technological innovations

Remote sensing, such as hyperspectral remote sensing of canopy leaf nutrients, can contribute to monitoring nutrient cycling (Reddy 2021).


  • Agricultural
  • Forest
  • Grassland
  • Heathland
  • Other
  • Peatland
  • Saltmarsh
  • Wetland


  • Community
  • Landscape
  • Population


  • High


  • Future

Technical expertise

  • High

Standardised methodology

  • Partial