Burgin, A. J. and S. K. Hamilton. 2007. Have we overemphasized the role of dentirification in aquatic ecosystems? A review of nitrate removal pathways. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5:89-96.
The removal of nitrogen (N) in aquatic ecosystems is of great interest because excessive nitrate in groundwater and surface water is a growing problem. High nitrate loading degrades water quality and is linked to eutrophication and harmful algal blooms, especially in coastal marine waters. Past research on nitrate removal processes has emphasized plant or microbial uptake (assimilation) or respiratory denitrification by bacteria. The increasing application of stable isotopes and other tracer techniques to the study of nitrate removal has yielded a growing body of evidence for alternative, microbially mediated processes of nitrate transformation. These include dissimilatory (the reduction of nitrogen into other inorganic compounds, coupled to energy producing processes) reduction of nitrate to ammonium (DNRA), chemoautotrophic denitrification via sulfur or iron oxidation, and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox), as well as abiotic nitrate removal processes. Here, we review evidence for the importance of alternative nitrate removal pathways in aquatic ecosystems and discuss how the possible prevalence of these pathways may alter views of N cycling and its controls. These alternative pathways are of particular importance for the management of excess N in the environment, especially in cases where nitrate is transformed to ammonium, a biologically available and less mobile N form, rather than to dinitrogen gas
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