Nitrogen: The element behind all your food

With all of the attention paid to global climate change and the disruption of the carbon cycle, biologist Peter Vitousek discusses the serious impacts humankind has had on the nitrogen cycle and how that relates to our food system.  He expands on the modern food production system as the primary driver of land use change, and explains just what he means when he says he wants to make the world a less homogeneous place with some interesting cultural implications.

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Peter Vitousek
The Vitousek Group and colleagues carry out research related to nutrient cycling, most notably nitrogen and phosphorus, throughout the range of environments and ecosystems. The Hawaiian Islands are the focus of the majority of studies. His group has looked at nutrient dynamics in the soil profile, litter, native forest ecosystems, forest and grassland systems affected by invasive species and agricultural systems.  Additionally his group is looking at how the early Hawaiians practiced agriculture on both dry and wet irrigated field systems. Their goal is to increase scientific understanding of long-term co-evolutionary interactions between people and their environments, and to advance the use of past dynamics as explanatory models for contemporary global environmental change.


Zach Brown
Zach is a PhD student at Stanford University whose research interest lies in the ecology of phytoplankton. At the interface between the physical/chemical processes of the ocean and the upper trophic levels of marine life, the phytoplankton touches all aspects of marine science. In particular, he uses a combination of fieldwork and remotely-sensed data to understand the role of the phytoplankton in high-latitude marine ecosystems.

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