Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 116-120

First online:

Effect of freeze-thaw events on mineralization of soil nitrogen

  • T. H. DeLucaAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Leopold Center, Iowa State University
  • , D. R. KeeneyAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Leopold Center, Iowa State University
  • , G. W. McCartyAffiliated withDepartment of Agronomy, Leopold Center, Iowa State University

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In humid regions of the United States there is considerable interest in the use of late spring (April–June) soil NO 3 concentrations to estimate fertilizer N requirements. However, little information is available on the environmental factors that influence soil NO 3 concentrations in late winter/early spring. The influence of freeze-thaw treatments on N mineralization was studied on several central Iowa soils. The soils were subjected to temperatures of-20°C or 5°C for 1 week followed by 0–20 days of incubation at various temperatures. The release of soluble ninhydrin-reactive N, the N mineralization rate, and net N mineralization (mineral N flush) were observed. The freeze-thaw treatment resulted in a significant increase in the N mineralization rate and mineral N flush. The N mineralization rate in the freeze-thaw treated soils remained higher than in non-frozen soils for 3–6 days when thawed soils were incubated at 25°C and for up to 20 days in thawed soils incubated at 5°C. The freeze-thaw treatments resulted in a significant release of ninhydrin-reactive N. These values were closely correlated with the mineral N flush (r 2=0.84). The release of ninhydrin-reactive N was more closely correlated with biomass N (r 2=0.80) than total N (r 2=0.65). Our results suggest that freeze-thaw events in soil disrupt microbial tissues in a similar way to drying and re-wetting or chloroform fumigation. Thus the level of mineral N released was directly related to the soil microbial biomass. We conclude that net N mineralization following a spring thaw may provide a significant portion of the total NO 3 present in the soil profile.

Key words

Freezing and thawing of soils Nitrogen mineralization Microbial biomass Ninhydrin-reactive N