Periods of drought or cloudy weather that slowsthe rate of photosynthesis are often associated withslowed plant growth and the accumulation of nitrates.
Temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and light intensity are factors that can limit the rate of photosynthesis.Plants also need mineral ions, including nitrate and magnesium, for healthy growth.
BBC - GCSE Bitesize: Plants and minerals
The aquarium nitrogen cycle is simply put the method by which diffusion from the gills of the fish and their wastes, as well as other decomposing organic matter (such as uneaten fish food) is converted from Ammonia or Ammonium to Nitrites to Nitrates.
Then Nitrates are then either converted to free nitrogen (which is a gas that will not remain in the water) by plants or de-nitrifying anaerobic bacteria, or you remove/lower your nitrates by way of regular water changes, or by using chemical absorbents such as Purigen.
Without this process going on in your aquarium/pond the keeping of fish or other inhabitants would be nearly impossible as ammonia is highly toxic in even small quantities (ammonium is not, but is quickly converted to ammonia at higher pH), nitrites are also toxic although not as much as ammonia. Nitrates are not toxic to most freshwater fish except in high amounts with long term exposure (this is not the case for many saltwater inhabitants though).
So with this in mind it is important to have an established aquarium nitrogen cycle in your aquarium or pond.
Nitrogen is an element vital to all life processes on Earth. Nitrogen is very important in our biosphere, where nitrogen comprises 78% of the atmosphere, and is part of every living tissue. It is a component of amino acids, proteins and nucleic acids. With the exception of carbon, nitrogen is the most universal element of life. Life could not exist without nitrogen. .
Nitrogen is essential for organic development; nitrogenous compounds are also required by some organisms for metabolic functions and respiration. Unfortunately, free nitrogen in the atmosphere is not in a form that is usable by plants or animals. Because of its stable structural formula, it is relatively inert and does not combine readily with other elements.
All living organisms, from fish to plants, have great quantities of assimilated nitrogen in their tissues. Nitrogen is a fundamental ingredient for the formation of proteins and nucleic acids. Every organism you place in your aquarium adds nitrogen based compounds; from fish to coral, to live rock, to plants.
The introduction of food also adds nitrogen. Dead or alive, they are organic masses, and possess the same nitrogenous attributes as the fish, plants, invertebrates you added to your aquarium.
Inorganic nitrogen is added two ways: the atmosphere and new water. Atmospheric nitrogen (N2) is incorporated into our aquarium water by way of nitrogen fixing bacteria and by Cyanobacteria (bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis) as ammonia (NH3). Some Cyanobacteria fix nitrogen gas, which cannot be used by plants, into ammonia, nitrites (NO2-) or nitrates (NO3-). Nitrates can then be utilized by plants and converted to nucleic acids and protein.
Inorganic nitrogenous compounds from our tap or well water also enter our aquarium, often as Nitrites or Nitrates. Reverse Osmosis can remove much of this.
For more about tap water, please see this article: