The term 'nutrient' applies to any material that, taken into a living organism, serves to sustain it in its existence, promoting growth, replacing losses, or providing energy. In the framework of primary production ecology, the term 'nutrients' is usually understood as 'inorganic nutrients', that is, inorganic salts or ions that provide the elements necessary for plant survival, growth, and reproduction. Almost all the natural occurring elements are found in plant tissues; however, only a reduced number (17) are necessary for plant growth: these are called essential elements. They range from elements constituting the bulk of plant tissues (i.e. C, H, and O) to trace elements that are only required for a very specific biochemical function (e.g. Fe, Co). Except for, maybe, oxygen and hydrogen, all of them can be considered nutrients. However, the interest of plant physiologists and ecologists is usually in those anions or cations, which
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are likely to limit plant growth and production, i.e. those elements in which the supply is limited as compared with plant requirements.
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