Eutrophication: Impacts of excess nutrient inputs on freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems

V. H. Smith, G. D. Tilman, J. C. Nekola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2193 Scopus citations


In the mid-1800s, the agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig demonstrated strong positive relationships between soil nutrient supplies and the growth yields of terrestrial plants, and it has since been found that freshwater and marine plants are equally responsive to nutrient inputs. Anthropogenic inputs of nutrients to the Earth's surface and atmosphere have increased greatly during the past two centuries. This nutrient enrichment, or eutrophication, can lead to highly undesirable changes in ecosystem structure and function, however. In this paper we briefly review the process, the impacts, and the potential management of cultural eutrophication in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. We present two brief case studies (one freshwater and one marine) demonstrating that nutrient loading restriction is the essential cornerstone of aquatic eutrophication control. In addition, we present results of a preliminary statistical analysis that is consistent with the hypothesis that anthropogenic emissions of oxidized nitrogen could be influencing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide via nitrogen stimulation of global primary production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-196
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The senior author (V.H.S.) sincerely thanks Karl Havens, Bill Manning, and Elsevier Science for their invitation to present this material at the First International Symposium on Issues in Environmental Pollution, and for the opportunity to write this paper. The carbon cycling research was supported by National Science Foundation grant No. BSR-8717638 to V.H.S., and by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to J.C.N. Both V.H.S. and J.C.N thank G. Marland and T.A. Boden of the Oak Ridge Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center for generously providing two of the data sets analyzed in this study. We also thank thank R.K. Peet, P.S. White, and especially W.H. Schlesinger for their very constructive comments on early versions of the carbon cycling section.


  • Carbon cycling
  • Eutrophication
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient loading
  • Phosphorus


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