, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 182-188

Soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics as affected by long-term tillage and nitrogen fertilization

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Quantifying seasonal dynamics of active soil C and N pools is important for understanding how production systems can be better managed to sustain long-term soil productivity especially in warm subhumid climates. Our objectives were to determine seasonal dynamics of inorganic soil N, potential C and N mineralization, soil microbial biomass C (SMBC), and the metabolic quotient of microbial biomass in continuous corn (Zea mays L.) under conventional (CT), moldboard (MB), chisel (CH), minimum tillage (MT), and no-tillage (NT) with low (45kgNha–1) and high (90kgNha–1) N fertilization. An Orelia sandy clay loam (fine-loamy, mixed, hyperthermic Typic Ochraqualf) in south Texas, United States, was sampled before corn planting in February, during pollination in May, and following harvest in July. Soil inorganic N, SMBC, and potential C and N mineralization were usually highest in soils under NT, whereas these characteristics were consistently lower throughout the growing season in soils receiving MB tillage. Nitrogen fertilization had little effect on soil inorganic N, SMBC, and potential C and N mineralization. The metabolic quotient of microbial biomass exhibited seasonal patterns inverse to that of SMBC. Seasonal changes in SMBC, inorganic N, and mineralizable C and N indicated the dependence of seasonal C and N dynamics on long-term substrate availability from crop residues. Long-term reduced tillage increased soil organic matter (SOM), SMBC, inorganic N, and labile C and N pools as compared with plowed systems and may be more sustainable over the long term. Seasonal changes in active soil C and N pools were affected more by tillage than by N fertilization in this subhumid climate.

Received: 20 September 1996