, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 71-82

Interactions between decomposition of plant residues and nitrogen cycling in soil

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Abstract

The processes of N mineralization and immobilization which can occur in agricultural soils during decomposition of plant residues are briefly reviewed in this paper. Results from different incubation studies have indicated that the amounts of N immobilized can be very important and that the intensity and kinetics of N immobilization and subsequent remineralization depend on the nature of plant residues and the type of decomposers associated. However, most of the available literature on these processes refer to incubations where large amounts of mineral N were present in soil.

Incubations carried out at low mineral N concentrations have shown that the decomposition rate of plant residues is decreased but not stopped. The immobilization intensity, expressed per unit of mineralized C, is reduced and N remineralization is delayed. Nitrogen availability in soil can therefore strongly modify the MIT kinetics (mineralization-immobilization turnover) by a feed-back effect.

The mineralization and immobilization kinetics have been determined in a two-years field experiment in bare soil with or without wheat straw. Mineralization in plots without straw seemed to be realistically predicted by accounting for variations in soil temperature and moisture. Immobilization associated with straw decomposition was clearly shown. It was increased markedly by the addition of mineral N throughout decomposition. It is concluded that mineral N availability is an important factor controlling plant residues decomposition under field conditions. A better prediction of the evolution of mineral N in soil may therefore require description and modelling of the respective localization of both organic matter and mineral N in soil aggregates.