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Soil microorganisms whose action results in the conversion of nitrates in soil to free atmospheric nitrogen, thus exhausting soil fertility and reducing agricultural productivity. Without denitrification, earth's nitrogen supply would eventually accumulate in the oceans, since nitrates are highly soluble and are continuously leached from the soil into nearby bodies of water. See alsonitrifying bacteria.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on denitrifying bacteria, visit Britannica.com.