© 2014, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Anthropogenically derived nitrogen (N) has a central role in global environmental changes, including climate change, biodiversity loss, air pollution, greenhouse gas emission, water pollution, as well as food production and human health. Current understanding of the biogeochemical processes that govern the N cycle in coupled human–ecological systems around the globe is drawn largely from the long-term ecological monitoring and experimental studies. Here, we review spatial and temporal patterns and trends in reactive N emissions, and the interactions between N and other important elements that dictate their delivery from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems, and the impacts of N on biodiversity and human society. Integrated international and long-term collaborative studies covering research gaps will reduce uncertainties and promote further understanding of the nitrogen cycle in various ecosystems.