Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 219-222

First online:

Availability of organic carbon for denitrification of nitrate in subsoils

  • G. W. McCartyAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Iowa State University
  • , J. M. BremnerAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Iowa State University

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Previous work in our laboratory indicated that the slow rate of denitrification in Iowa subsoils is not due to a lack of denitrifying microorganisms, but to a lack of organic C that can be utilized by these microorganisms for reduction of NO 3 . This conclusion was supported by studies showing that drainage water from tile drains under agricultural research plots contained only trace amounts of organic C and had very little, if any, effect on denitrification in subsoils. Aqueous extracts of surface soils promoted denitrification when added to subsoils, and their ability to do so increased with increase in their organic C content. Amendment of surface soils with corn and soybean residues initially led to a marked increase in the amounts of organic C in aqueous extracts of these soils and in the ability of these extracts to promote denitrification in subsoils, but these effects were short-lived and could not be detected after incubation of residue-treated soils for a few days. We conclude from these observations that water-soluble organic C derived from plant residues is decomposed so rapidly in surface soils that very little of this C is leached into subsoils, and that this largely accounts for the slow rate of denitrification of nitrate in subsoils.

Key words

Denitrification Nitrate Subsoils Organic carbon Denitrifying microorganisms Plant residues