Nutrient cycling

Students need to understand the key role that microorganisms play in the recycling of chemical elements within ecosystems. This encompasses the role of decomposers, such as saprobionts, and the roles of Nitrosomonas, Nitrobacter, Azotobacter and Rhizobiaa in the recycling of nitrogen. Students will need to describe the processes of saprobiotic nutrition, ammonification, nitrification, nitrogen fixation and denitrification.

Linked to the nitrogen cycle students should be aware of the impact that the use of natural and artificial fertilisers can have. These are routinely used to replace the nitrates and phosphates lost by harvesting plants and removing livestock. There are environmental issues arising from the use of these fertilisers including leaching and eutrophication.

The importance of the carbon cycle should also be covered in this topic, with students being aware of factors that can affect the carbon cycle.

Some specifications also require students to demonstrate understanding of the recycling of other nutrients such as phosphorus.

Whilst this list provides a source of information and ideas for experimental work, it is important to note that recommendations can date very quickly. Do NOT follow suggestions which conflict with current advice from CLEAPSS, SSERC or other recent safety guides. eLibrary users are responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is consistent with current regulations related to Health and Safety and that they carry an appropriate risk assessment. Further information is provided in our Health and Safety guidance.

Links and Resources

Decomposition

This resource is one of the many in-depth topic booklets available in the Institute of Biology series. Chapters included in this booklet are:

  • Biochemistry of decomposition
  • The role of the microorganisms
  • The role of detritivores
  • Decomposition and the functioning of ecosystem

The whole booklet would make useful reading for teachers who need to refresh their knowledge on this particular topic before delivering it to students.

There are also sections of the booklet which could be used with students to develop subject knowledge and scientific reading skills. The first couple of pages would make for good pre-topic reading and chapter four could be used in its entirety or split into sections.

publication year
1970 - 1979

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Measuring Carbon Cycling

This article from the Catalyst magazine focuses on how parts of carbon cycling, as it happens in forests, can be measured. Two of the processes used in this measure, flux towers and soil chambers, are described in the article.

Although measurement of the carbon cycle may not be identified within A level specifications, this article does provide useful background/around the subject reading at a suitable level.

The article itself is quite short, with one of the two pages devoted to photographs of the equipment used.

It would be possible to use this article as stimulus for a discussion on the limitations of either of these approaches or for devising equipment for specific purposes in biological measurement (what other examples can they name?) or the use of data loggers.

The other Catalyst article on carbon cycling in this list and this article would work well together.  You could ask students to read, review and summarise each for homework/independent study.

publication year
2000 - 2009

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Forests, Carbon and Climate

Although this article from Catalyst magazine was originally intended to meet the GCSE specification requirements in respect of carbon cycling, it is still a useful article for A level students to read and contains a lot of detail about the relationship between the carbon cycle and climate change. There are some great images and illustrations within the article.

The article could be used in a variety of ways: it could be used for flipped learning, so students read and review and then one student presents the starter for the next lesson by giving a summary of the article to the class, who then add to or amend  whatever he/she has said. Alternatively students could read the article and then investigate the suggested websites, making notes to share with the rest of the class. The article could be used as stimulus material for a debate on climate change, with students taking on roles for and against activities such as deforestation and asked to include scientific evidence in their arguments.

publication year
2000 - 2009

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Plants and Nitrogen

This resource is one of the many in-depth topic booklets available in the Institute of Biology series. This booklet focuses on the processing of nitrogen in the biosphere by following the steps of the nitrogen cycle. This highlights not only the biochemical and physiological subtleties of the processes involved but also their ecological and agricultural significance.

The book is both comprehensive and detailed in its coverage of this topic and does include a level of detail that is above the requirement for A level. It would however make for useful reading for teachers who need to refresh their understanding of this particular topic before delivering it to students.

There are also sections of the booklet which could be used with students to develop subject knowledge and scientific reading skills. Chapter two for example, pages three through to 29, are detailed, but students could be asked to read these over a number of homework/directed study periods.

Throughout the booklet there are useful tables of data, images and illustrations that could be used by teachers.

publication year
1980 - 1989

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