Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

The evolution of Earth’s biogeochemical nitrogen cycle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Author(s)

Eva E. Stueeken, Michael A. Kipp, Matthew C. Koehler, Roger Buick

Abstract

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for all life on Earth and it acts as a major control on biological productivity in the modern ocean. Accurate reconstructions of the evolution of life over the course of the last four billion years therefore demand a better understanding of nitrogen bioavailability and speciation through time. The biogeochemical nitrogen cycle has evidently been closely tied to the redox state of the ocean and atmosphere. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the Earth’s surface has passed in a non-linear fashion from an anoxic state in the Hadean to an oxic state in the later Phanerozoic. It is therefore likely that the nitrogen cycle has changed markedly over time, with potentially severe implications for the productivity and evolution of the biosphere. Here we compile nitrogen isotope data from the literature and review our current understanding of the evolution of the nitrogen cycle, with particular emphasis on the Precambrian. Combined with recent work on redox conditions, trace metal availability, sulfur and iron cycling on the early Earth, we then use the nitrogen isotope record as a platform to test existing and new hypotheses about biogeochemical pathways that may have controlled nitrogen availability through time. Among other things, we conclude that (a) abiotic nitrogen sources were likely insufficient to sustain a large biosphere, thus favoring an early origin of biological N2 fixation, (b) evidence of nitrate in the Neoarchean and Paleoproterozoic confirm current views of increasing surface oxygen levels at those times, (c) abundant ferrous iron and sulfide in the mid-Precambrian ocean may have affected the speciation and size of the fixed nitrogen reservoir, and (d) nitrate availability alone was not a major driver of eukaryotic evolution.
Close

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-239
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Science Reviews
Volume160
Early online date22 Jul 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2016

    Research areas

  • Nitrogen cycle, Nitrogen isotopes, Precambrian, Evolution

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. A marine origin for the late Mesoproterozoic Copper Harbor and Nonesuch Formations of the Midcontinent Rift of Laurentia

    Jones, S. M., Prave, A. R., Raub, T. D., Cloutier, J., Stüeken, E. E., Rose, C. V., Linnekogel, S. & Nazarov, K., 9 Nov 2019, In : Precambrian Research. 336, 105510.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Exploring cycad foliage as an archive of the isotopic composition of atmospheric nitrogen

    Kipp, M. A., Stüeken, E. E., Gehringer, M. M., Sterelny, K., Scott, J. K., Forster, P. I., Strömberg, C. A. E. & Buick, R., 26 Nov 2019, In : Geobiology. Early View

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Revisiting the depositional environment of the Neoproterozoic Callanna Group, South Australia

    Stüeken, E. E., Buick, R. & Lyons, T. W., 1 Nov 2019, In : Precambrian Research. 334, 105474.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. Nitrates as a potential N Supply for microbial ecosystems in a hyperarid Mars analog system

    Shen, J., Zerkle, A. L., Stueeken, E. E. & Claire, M., 19 Oct 2019, In : Life. 9, 4, 20 p., 79.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Jiangnan Orogen, South China: a ~970–820 Ma Rodinia margin accretionary belt

    Yao, J., Cawood, P. A., Shu, L. & Zhao, G., Sep 2019, In : Earth Science Reviews. 196

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. Glacial geomorphological mapping: a review of approaches and frameworks for best practice

    Chandler, B. M. P., Lovell, H., Boston, C. M., Lukas, S., Barr, I. D., Benediktsson, Í. Ö., Benn, D. I., Clark, C. D., Darvill, C. M., Evans, D. J. A., Ewertowski, M. W., Loibl, D., Margold, M., Otto, J-C., Roberts, D. H., Stokes, C. R., Storrar, R. D. & Stroeven, A. P., Oct 2018, In : Earth Science Reviews. 185, p. 806-846

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  3. Reconstructing South China in Phanerozoic and Precambrian supercontinents

    Cawood, P. A., Zhao, G., Yao, J., Wang, W., Xu, Y. & Wang, Y., Nov 2018, In : Earth Science Reviews. 186, p. 173-194

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  4. The accuracy of mid-Pliocene δ18O-based ice volume and sea level reconstructions

    Raymo, M. E., Kozdon, R., Evans, D., Lisiecki, L. & Ford, H. L., Feb 2018, In : Earth Science Reviews. 177, p. 291-302

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

ID: 244544481

Top