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Nitrogen Dynamics and Indices to Predict Soil Nitrogen Supply in Humid Temperate Soils

Luce, M.S., J.K. Whalen, N. Ziadi and B.J. Zebarth. 2011.


Knowledge of the nitrogen (N) available to crops during the growing season is essential for improving fertilizer-use efficiency and minimizing the adverse impacts of N losses on the environment. In humid temperate regions, soil N supply is dominated by in-season N mineralization because plant-available N (NH4-N and NO3-N) is transformed to nonlabile forms or lost from the soil-plant system during fall and winter. The microbially mediated reactions that generate the soil N supply in agroecosystems are affected by system-specific conditions, including soil properties, agricultural management (crop rotation, tillage system, organic amendments), and most importantly, climate. Potentially mineralizable N (N0) determined from long-term soil incubation is regarded as the standard measure of soil N mineralization potential and may provide a good approximation of the soil N supply. However, this method is time consuming and not practical for routine use. Several chemical methods to estimate the N mineralization potential of soils are discussed in this chapter. The major limitation of chemical methods is that they cannot simulate the microbial-mediated release of plant-available N under field conditions. Consequently, any single chemical method may not be a good predictor of soil N supply. Thus, we suggest a holistic approach to estimate soil N supply in humid temperate regions, which involves (1) the use of a combination of N indices together with weather data and (2) identification and quantification of a specific fraction (s) of organic N that is the dominant contributor (s) to N supply in a particular system.

Key Words

Agricultural soil Soil nitrogen test Nitrogen-use efficiency Mineralization Nitrification Microbial biomass nitrogen