Limiting Nutrients

A limiting nutrient is a nutrient or trace element that is essential for plants to grow, but that is available in smaller quantities than are required by the plants and algae to increase in abundance. Therefore, if more of a limiting nutrient is added to an aquatic ecosystem, larger algal populations will develop until nutrient limitation or another environmental factor ( e.g. light or water temperature) curtails production, although at a higher threshold than previously.

It is often said that nitrogen is the limiting nutrient in marine and coastal waters, however this general assumption is often incorrect [1]. Phosphorus, carbon, silica and iron can also limit production in marine and coastal waters, and different trophic groups within the same ecosystem can be limited by different elements and nutrients [2].

  1. ANZECC/ARMCANZ (October 2000) Australian Guidelines for Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting.
  2. Sundareshwar, P.V., Morris, J.T., Koepfler, E.K., and B. Fornwalt. 2003. Phosphorus limitation of coastal ecosystem processes. Science 299, 563-565.
« Back to Glossary Index