Ecosystem services altered by human changes in the nitrogen cycle: a new perspective for US decision making

Authors

  • Jana E. Compton,

    Corresponding author
    1. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Health and Environmental Effects Laboratory, Western Ecology Division, 200 SW 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333, USA
      E-mail:compton.jana@epa.gov
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  • John A. Harrison,

    1. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Washington State University, Vancouver, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98686, USA
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  • Robin L. Dennis,

    1. US EPA, National Exposure Research Laboratory, 109 T.W. Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711, USA
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  • Tara L. Greaver,

    1. US EPA, National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711, USA
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  • Brian H. Hill,

    1. US EPA, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Mid-Continent Ecology Division, Duluth, MN 55804, USA
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  • Stephen J. Jordan,

    1. US EPA, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Gulf Ecology Division, 1 Sabine Island Drive, Gulf Breeze, FL 32561, USA
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  • Henry Walker,

    1. US EPA, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA
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  • Holly V. Campbell

    1. Oregon State University, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
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E-mail:compton.jana@epa.gov

Abstract

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 804–815

Abstract

Human alteration of the nitrogen (N) cycle has produced benefits for health and well-being, but excess N has altered many ecosystems and degraded air and water quality. US regulations mandate protection of the environment in terms that directly connect to ecosystem services. Here, we review the science quantifying effects of N on key ecosystem services, and compare the costs of N-related impacts or mitigation using the metric of cost per unit of N. Damage costs to the provision of clean air, reflected by impaired human respiratory health, are well characterized and fairly high (e.g. costs of ozone and particulate damages of $28 per kg NOx-N). Damage to services associated with productivity, biodiversity, recreation and clean water are less certain and although generally lower, these costs are quite variable (< $2.2–56 per kg N). In the current Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, for example, the collection of available damage costs clearly exceeds the projected abatement costs to reduce N loads to the Bay ($8–15 per kg N). Explicit consideration and accounting of effects on multiple ecosystem services provides decision-makers an integrated view of N sources, damages and abatement costs to address the significant challenges associated with reducing N pollution.

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