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Nutrient Cycle

Last updated date: 19th Jul 2024
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What are Nutrients?

Nutrients are the substances that are used by organisms to survive. The nutrient cycle is the recycling system of nature. It is a cyclic pathway of an element from one organism to the other. In the ecosystem, recycling is the process that sustains and adds more contribution to human wellness. Let us learn more about the nutrient cycle, its types, and its importance. 

Nutrient Cycle in the Ecosystem

All living beings, biomolecules, and cells are composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus. These elements are essential for life. It is important to recycle the nutrients in the environment for life to exist. The ecosystem is capable of complete recycling, that is 100% of the waste material is reused. 

Nutrient Cycle Definition

The cyclic pathway through which nutrients are recycled for reuse is called the nutrient cycle. Nutrients that are consumed by plants and animals are returned to the environment after their death and decomposition of the body. 

The microbes present in the soil helps in the decomposition of organic matter and converting them to nutrients. They also transfer the nutrients into the soil which is helpful for the plants to absorb.

What is Nutrient Cycling?

The cyclic process in which nutrients are transferred from the physical environment to the living organisms and back to the environment is called nutrient cycling.

Types of Nutrient Cycles

1. Carbon cycle: 

Carbon is considered one of the main constituents of all living organisms. 

  • It is present as methane (CH4)  and carbon dioxide (CO2)

  • Carbon is exchanged continuously by the process of respiration and photosynthesis in between living organisms and nonliving organisms.

  • By the process of photosynthesis carbon dioxide is fixed in the atmosphere by plants.

  • By the process of respiration carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by living organisms.

  • By the burning of fossil fuels carbon is released into the atmosphere.

  • After the decomposition of dead and decaying matter, organic carbon is released into the atmosphere. 

2. Nitrogen cycle: 

Nitrogen is an essential component of life. Living organisms cannot consume nitrogen directly instead it has to be converted into other organic compounds. 

Nitrogen is converted into other forms in different ways and they are:

  • Nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia and the nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia to nitrate. This converted nitrate is absorbed by plants.

  • Atmospheric nitrogen can be directly converted into nitrates by lightning. 

  • Decomposers break proteins and amino acids of the dead organisms.

  • The process of conversion of ammonia into nitrogen and nitrates into nitrous oxide by the denitrifying bacteria is called denitrification. 

3. Oxygen cycle: 

Oxygen is the essential element for all life processes. Oxygen is used for the decomposition of waste products. 

  • The main source of oxygen present in the atmosphere in photosynthesis.

  • In the process of respiration living organisms take oxygen and release carbon dioxide, the released carbon dioxide is used by plants during the process of photosynthesis.

  • Aquatic organisms take the oxygen which is dissolved in the water. 

4. Hydrologic cycle or water cycle: 

  • The water from all the reservoirs is converted into vapors by the process of evaporation.

  • Water from the plant’s surface is converted into vapor by the process of transpiration.

  • The water vapor is condensed and returned to the atmosphere by precipitation.

  • The cycle is continued.

  • The water returns to the land surface in the form of rain and it is stored as groundwater.

Nutrient cycle links living things and nonliving things with one another. Hence we can conclude that the nutrient cycle is the most important process that occurs in the ecosystem. 

Importance of Nutrient Cycle

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus make up all living beings. These ingredients are necessary for life to exist. In order to sustain, it is crucial to recycle and replace nutrients in the environment.


Nutrient cycle is significant for the following reasons:

  • It is required for the conversion of nutrients from one form to another so that they may be used by various organisms. For example, plants cannot accept air nitrogen and must fix it and convert it to ammonium and nitrate before they can be used.

  • Nutrient transfer from one location to another for use, such as from air to soil or water.

  • Nutrient cycles are important to maintain the ecosystem in balance by storing nutrients for future use.

  • Living creatures interact with their surroundings' abiotic components via nutrition cycling.


Nutrient cycle plays an important role in linking living things and nonliving things with one another. Hence we can conclude that the nutrient cycle is the most important process that occurs in the ecosystem. 

FAQs on Nutrient Cycle

1. How Nutrient Cycling is Different From Energy Flow?

The energy flow refers to the transfer of energy from one trophic level to another in the food chain and food web. It is unidirectional and energy is lost from one trophic level to another in the form of heat. Sunlight is the ultimate energy source.

2. What would happen to the nutrient cycle if there exist no decomposers?

The nutrient cycle would be disrupted if decomposers and other microorganisms were not present. Plants would most likely die out, and the food chain would disintegrate.

3. Can climate change affect the nutrient cycle?

Increased aridity brought on by climate change could disturb the natural cycle of elemental nutrients in soil, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. A complex combination of physical, chemical, and biotic variables regulates the pace of nutrient cycling.