Nitrogen limitation

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Nitrogen limitation for microbes is in large part determined by the quality of the organic substrate in terms of quantities of carbon (C) in relation to nitrogen (N) (the C:N ratio), and thus has an impact on the decomposition process of the substrate and, in soil, nitrogen availability for plants.

Mineralization occurs when the organic material contains a sufficient amount of nitrogen in relation to carbon to support microbial growth; the microbes do not need to acquire nitrogen from the surroundings to utilize the carbon source. Nitrogen is then released in the form of ammonium available for plant uptake, or converted to nitrite and then nitrate through the process called nitrogen nitrification.

Immobilization occurs when the organic material has a C:N ratio that is too high to support microbial needs for nitrogen. Mineral nitrogen is then taken up from the soil surroundings by the microbes to support carbon utilisation, leaving nitrogen less available for plant growth.

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