Breath of Clarity

Ecology Discussion #3: B

All of the biogeochemical cycles equally, collaboratively nourish any ecosystem. According to Edward Rastetter in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, the 30 essential elements organisms require to sustain life are coupled to one another based upon the organism’s physiology (Rastetter 2011). Furthermore, organisms require the elements in specific proportions (Rastetter 2011). Therefore, biogeochemical cycles do not function in isolation, and the presence of one cannot compensate for the lacking of another. In his study, Rastetter, shows the intwined quality of biogeochemical cycles (Rastetter 2011). It reveals they cannot be compared in importance because comparison entails separation. He does so through observing a Douglass fur ecosystem’s accumulation of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous (Rastetter 2011). He concludes determining the superior methods of communicating the coupling of biogeochemical cycles is dependent on ecosystem context (Rastetter 2011). For example, a Liebig formulation is an adequate frame of thought in an agronomical context but would be unfitting in a global-change context (Rastetter 2011). Either way, various methods reveal biogeochemical cycles are intrinsically linked. That said, Rastetter’s study can be at the start of a presentation to a city council meeting in support of recommendations to switch from gasoline to electric or hybrid-electric vehicles for the city’s vehicle pool. The study highlights the coexistence of biogeochemical cycles. Then, I would tell a simple story of biogeochemical cycles in terms of fossil-fuel emission from gasoline powered cars. I would first start by explaining how fossil-fuel is extracted. The process of using carbon compounds from old plants and algae involves disrupting the proportion of carbon relative to other gases in the atmosphere because, as fossil-fuels are burned, the carbon naturally being stored underground is sent into the air. Since carbon is a greenhouse gas, its increased presence in the atmosphere negatively affects Earth’s climate and oceans. I would then convey, despite fossil-fuel production’s impact on the environment, it is not a dependable and economic method that is going to be successful in the long-term because it is a non-renewable resource defined as being used up faster than they can be produced through a combination of biogeochemical processes.

Comment by Ed Piersa:

Mary –

I agree that it is impossible to name one biogeochemical cycle as being the most important. As you explained above, biogeochemical cycles do not operate in isolation. They constantly impact and interact with one another. After all, the “basic building blocks of life like water, oxygen, carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorous are recycled and go back into their respective cycles repeatedly. The biogeochemical cycles also create reservoirs of these building blocks such as the water stored in lakes and oceans and sulfur stored in rocks and minerals” (Biology Dictionary 2017).

I also appreciated your argument for electric or hybrid-electric vehicles for the city’s vehicle pool. As you described in your post above, fossil fuels are not dependable in the long-term as they are non-renewable resources. This is all the more reason that I wish United States energy subsidies would take this into account. Historically speaking, United States energy subsidies have heavily favored oil and gas. If these energy subsidies could be reallocated for renewable energies, we would likely see better developments for solar and wind energy technologies.


Biology Dictionary. 2017. “What Do Biogeochemical Cycles Connect?” Last modified June 25, 2017.


Rastetter, Edward B. 2011. “Modeling coupled biogeochemical cycles.” Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 9:68-73.

My Response:

Hi Ed,

Thanks for further specifying how the biogeochemical cycles are inextricably connected. Although they all impact one another, particularly considering the biogeochemical cycles create reservoirs of these building blocks such as stored water, I can see how a certain cycle may be comparably more useful depending on both the requirement of its content and reservoir to sustain life. Either way, the question of creating a hierarchy of biogeochemical cycle importance supports inquiry regarding the details of how each are linked and also which building block is most crucial for existence of life.

A way to recommend a switch from gasoline to electric vehicles is by explaining the latter’s function as similar to the biogeochemical cycles we are learning about. When the electric vehicle charging stations are operated by solar power, the panels absorb DC energy from the sun and convert it into AC energy that can be used to charge the car. It is similar to the thematic structure of biogeochemical cycles in regards to the process of absorbing and then releasing. In the context of urban areas with a large population, combining the electric vehicle cycle with the carbon cycle shows how beneficially impactful the switch to sustainable transportation can be. Further, the recycling of solar panels is a way to make the biogeochemical cycle embedded in electric vehicle operation increasingly environmentally friendly. Due to government regulationsLinks to an external site., European solar panel owners must recycle their panels once they are done using them. This has created a market for panel recyclers. Considering the renewable energy movement is led by countries overseas, it would be great to see the U.S. also incorporate solar panel recycling into its protocol.

Response by Professor Fenton Kay:

Mary, great discussion. Do you think that your presentation to the council would convince them of the importance of conserving rather than proliferating C in the atmosphere? To what part of which biogeochemical cycle would you refer to make your point?



My Reply:

Hi Fenton,

To increase the persuasiveness of my argument, I can show the extent to which car emissions contribute to the threat of global climate change. ​In 2018, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation accounted for about 28 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions (Environmental Protection Agency 2020). That said, cars are the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions (Environmental Protection Agency 2020). Further, the types of vehicles to be used by a city’s pool are the ones strongly factoring into the 28 percent (Environmental Protection Agency 2020).

While I could focus on the latter part of the carbon cycle to explain the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the atmosphere, I would rather concentrate on showing how the energy powering electric vehicle charging stations can be comparable to photosynthesis and include the explanation of how humans fit into the cycle. The energy created by photosynthesis, is composed of carbon inputs in which plants turn it into simple sugars. By comparing a solar charging station to a plant, I can draw a parallel between renewable energy technology’s processes and photosynthesis. Just as photosynthesis results in simple sugars providing opportunity for growth to plants and animals, renewable energy technology’s processes results in electricity providing opportunity for growth to the city. People can consume simple sugars just as they can consume electricity as a means for power. Instead of only illustrating the negative impact emissions have on the atmosphere, my aim is to show the city how humans can profit by installing solar charging stations just as plants profit from photosynthesis. Similar to how plants reduce CO2 in the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis, people can reduce CO2 in the atmosphere through implementation of renewable energy technology.


Environmental Protection Agency. 2020. “Carbon Pollution from Transportation”. Accessed September 30 2020.

Response by Professor Fenton Kay:

Great reply, Mary. I like your positive approach and using natural processes to illustrate man-made processes.



Comment #2:

Original Post by Amy Zobler:

While some biogeochemical cycles may have a faster or more visible impact than others, that doesn’t mean they are more important to the proper functioning of an ecosystem. For example, if water is removed from an ecosystem, species will die off quickly and noticeably. However, if nitrogen is completely removed, plant species will not be able to photosynthesize adequately and will die off, eventually impacting other species that rely on them. Although species may be able to handle a short disruption of nitrogen better than that of water, both cycles are essential to their proper function. Additionally, biogeochemical cycles are interlinked, and do not function independently. Even if one cycle alone might be thought to not impact an ecosystem as heavily as another, the impact one cycle may have on others may increase its significance (Rastetter 2011).

Carbon is one biogeochemical cycle that not only has a faster and more visible impact on ecosystems than some other cycles, but is heavily influenced by human activities. Since the single largest cause of climate warming is an increase in atmospheric CO2, it is important to make any changes possible to decrease the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, such as through the burning of fossil fuels. Fig. 2.18 in the textbook provides a good visual that could be used as evidence to show the proportionately larger impact atmospheric levels of CO2 have on warming the climate (Chapin et al 2011, 45).

Chapin III, F. Stuart, Pamela A. Matson, and Peter M. Vitousek. 2011. “Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology”, 2nd Ed. New York: Springer.

Rastetter, Edward B. 2011. “Modeling coupled biogeochemical cycles.” Frontiers in Ecology and Environment 9:68-73, doi:10.1890/090223.

My Comment:

Hi Amy,

You make a great point by differentiating biogeochemical cycles based upon visibility. While certain changes are easy to identify such as ice transforming into water, other crucial processes such as the carbon cycle are comparatively abstract. Your post brings up the question- what characterizes an environmental problem?

I agree the power of every individual biogeochemical cycle is its impact on the others.

I agree with your emphasis on species dying off as being a key factor people care about. It is interesting to consider the role of the Endangered Species Act in environmental policy. The catastrophic New South Wales (NSW) fires persisted for 240 consecutive days from July 2019 to March 2020. The disaster destroyed 312 homes and 80% of the Shoalhaven National Parks Lands. Originally receiving approval for the project back in 2008, developer Ozy Homes planned to turn a 20-hectare area that is still unburnt mature growth forest into 180 new, upscale properties (Yahoo News 2020). However, after the brutal disaster cleared the surrounding area, now the residents are taking a stand to preserve all they have left. The coastal forest contains a wide array of biodiversity including the Powerful Owl, Yellow Bellied Glider, Koalas, Sugar Glider, Swift Parrot, and the Greater Glider. Since the latter is already endangered, it brought potential to protect the bushland via the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). On May 27, the Federal Court ordered a short reprieve of the developer’s plans while a team overseen by David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University takes three days to survey the land for primarily the Great Glider’s presence amongst other living things (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). The EPBC allowed for a clear consensus to be reached based on respect of existing laws because the issue of letting Ozy Homes conduct its development became dependent on the presence of endangered species.


Environmental Defenders Office. May 27 2020. “Federal Court Order Halts Manyana Clearing.” Accessed June 2 2020.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.

Yahoo News. May 4 2020. “Demonstrators Exercise in Protest Against Land Clearing on South Coast During COVID-19 Restrictions.” Accessed June 2 2020.