Humans have dramatically altered nutrient cycles at local to global scales. We examined changes in anthropogenic nutrient inputs to the northeastern United States (NE) from 1930 to 2000. We created a comprehensive time series of anthropogenic N and P inputs to 437 counties in the NE at 5 year intervals. Inputs included atmospheric N deposition, biological N2 fixation, fertilizer, detergent P, livestock feed, and human food. Exports included exports of feed and food and volatilization of ammonia. N inputs to the NE increased throughout the study period, primarily due to increases in atmospheric deposition and fertilizer. P inputs increased until 1970 and then declined due to decreased fertilizer and detergent inputs. Livestock consistently consumed the majority of nutrient inputs over time and space. The area of crop agriculture declined during the study period but consumed more nutrients as fertilizer. We found that stoichiometry (N:P) of inputs and absolute amounts of N matched nutritional needs (livestock, humans, crops) when atmospheric components (N deposition, N2 fixation) were not included. Differences between N and P led to major changes in N:P stoichiometry over time, consistent with global trends. N:P decreased from 1930 to 1970 due to increased inputs of P, and increased from 1970 to 2000 due to increased N deposition and fertilizer and decreases in P fertilizer and detergent use. We found that nutrient use is a dynamic product of social, economic, political, and environmental interactions. Therefore, future nutrient management must take into account these factors to design successful and effective nutrient reduction measures.
History of nutrient inputs to the northeastern United States, 1930-2000