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N limitation to primary production and other ecosystem processes is widespread. To understand the causes and distribution of N limitation, we must understand the controls of biological N fixation. The physiology of this process is reasonably well characterized, but our understanding of ecological controls is sparse, except in a few cultivated ecosystems. We review information on the ecological controls of N fixation in free-living cyanobacteria, vascular plant symbioses, and heterotrophic bacteria, with a view toward developing improved conceptual and simulation models of ecological controls of biological N fixation. A model (Howarth et al. 1999) of cyanobacterial fixation in lakes (where N fixation generally increases...