It is commonly assumed that a large fraction of fertilizer N applied to a rice (Oryza sativa L.) field is lost from the soil-water-plant system as a result of denitrification. Direct evidence to support this view, however, is limited. The few direct field, denitrification gas measurements that have been made indicate less N loss than that determined by 15N balance after the growing season. One explanation for this discrepancy is that the N2 produced during denitrification in a flooded soil remains trapped in the soil system and does not evolve to the atmosphere until the soil dries or is otherwise disturbed. It seems likely, however, that N2 produced in the soil uses the rice plants as a conduit to the atmosphere, as does methane. Methane evolution from a rice field has been demonstrated to occur almost exclusively through the rice plants themselves. A field study in Cuttack, India, and a greenhouse study in Fort Collins, Colorado, were conducted to determine the influence of rice plants on the transport of N2 and N2O from the soil to the atmosphere. In these studies, plots were fertilized with 75 or 99 atom % 15N-urea and 15N techniques were used to monitor the daily evolution of N2 and N2O. At weekly intervals the amount of N2+N2O trapped in the flooded soil and the total-N and fertilized-N content of the soil and plants were measured in the greenhouse plots. Direct measurement of N2+N2O emission from field and greenhouse plots indicated that the young rice plant facilitates the efflux of N2 and N2O from the soil to the atmosphere. Little N gas was trapped in the rice-planted soils while large quantities were trapped in the unplanted soils. N losses due to denitrification accounted for only up to 10% of the loss of added N in planted soils in the field or greenhouse. The major losses of fertilizer N from both the field and greenhouse soils appear to have been the result of NH3 volatilization.
DenitrificationFlooded soil15NUrea15N balanceWetland riceOryza sativa L.