The globalization of N deposition: Ecosystem consequences in tropical environments

Pamela A. Matson, William H. McDowell, Alan R. Townsend, Peter M. Vitousek

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397 Scopus citations


Human activities have more than doubled the inputs of nitrogen (N) into terrestrial systems globally. The sources and distribution of anthropogenic N, including N fertilization and N fixed during fossil fuel combustion, are rapidly shifting from the temperate zone to a more global distribution. The consequences of anthropogenic N deposition for ecosystem processes and N losses have been studied primarily in N-limited ecosystems in the temperate zone; there is reason to expect that tropical ecosystems, where plant growth is most often limited by some other resource, will respond differently to increasing deposition. In this paper, we assess the likely direct and indirect effects of increasing anthropogenic N inputs on tropical ecosystem processes. We conclude that anthropogenic inputs of N into tropical forests are unlikely to increase productivity and may even decrease it due to indirect effects on acidity and the availability of phosphorus and cations. We also suggest that the direct effects of anthropogenic N deposition on N cycling processes will lead to increased fluxes at the soil-water and soil-air interfaces, with little or no lag in response time. Finally, we discuss the uncertainties inherent in this analysis, and outline future research that is needed to address those uncertainties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-83
Number of pages17
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1999


  • Acidification
  • Anthropogenic nitrogen
  • Cations
  • Nitrate leaching
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Phosphorus
  • Productivity
  • Tropical ecosystems


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