Plant and Soil

, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 53–63 | Cite as

Processes of soil acidification during nitrogen cycling with emphasis on legume based pastures

  • N. S. Bolan
  • M. J. Hedley
  • R. E. White


In areas that remain unaffected by industrial pollution soil acidification is mainly caused by the release of protons (H+) during the oxidation of carbon (C), sulphur (S) and nitrogen (N) compounds in soils. In this review the processes of H+ ions release during N cycling and its effect on soil acidification are examined. The major processes leading to acidification during N cycling in soils are: (i) the imbalance of cation over anion uptake in the rhizosphere of plants either actively fixing N2 gas or taking up NH4 + ions as the major source of N, (ii) the net nitrification of N derived from fixation or from NH4 + and R-NH2 based fertilizers, and (iii) the removal of plant and animal products containing N derived from the process described in (i) and losses of NO3-N by leaching when the N input form is N2, NH4 + or R-NH2. The uptake of excess cations over anions by plants results in the acidification of the rhizosphere which is a “localized” effect and can be balanced by the release of hydroxyl (OH-) ions during subsequent plant decomposition. Nitrification of fixed N2 or NH4 + and R-NH2 based fertilizers, and loss of N from the soil either by removal of products or by leaching of NO3-N with a companion basic cation, lead to ‘permanent’ acidification.

Key words

acidification ammonia uptake hydroxyl ion leaching nitrate uptake nitrogen fixation proton rhizosphere 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Andrew C S and Johnson A D 1976 Effect of calcium, pH and nitrogen on the growth and chemical composition of some tropical and temperate pasture legumes. 11. Chemical composition. (Calcium, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus). Aust. J. Agric. Res. 27, 625–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Avnimelech Y and Haher M 1977 Ammonia volatilization from soils: Equilibrium considerations. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 41, 1080–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Awad A S and Edwards D G 1977 Reversal of adverse effects of heavy ammonium sulphate application on growth and nutrient status of a Kikuyu pasture. Plant and Soil 48, 169–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bache B W 1985 Soil acidification and aluminium mobility. Soil Use Manage. 1, 10–14.Google Scholar
  5. Barrow N J 1969 The accumulation of soil organic matter under pasture and its effect on soil properties. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. Anim. Husb. 9, 437–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolan N S, Scotter D R, Syers J K and Tillman R W 1986 The effect of adsorption on sulphate leaching. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 50, 1419–1424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bolan N S, White R E and Hedley M J 1990 A review of the use of phosphate rock as fertilizers for direct application in Australia and New Zealand. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. 30, 297–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Breemen Nvan, Mulder J and Driscoll C T 1983 Acidification and alkalinization of soils. Plant and Soil 75, 283–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Breeuwsma A and deVries W 1984 The relative importance of natural production of H+ in soil acidification. Neth. J. Agric. Sci. 32, 161–3.Google Scholar
  10. Breteler H 1973 A comparison between ammonium and nitrate nutrition of young sugar-beet plants grown in nutrient solutions of constant acidity. 1. Production of dry matter, ionic balance and chemical composition. Neth. J. Agric. Sci. 21, 227–44.Google Scholar
  11. Bromfield S M, Cumming R W, David D J and Williams C H 1983 Changes in soil pH, manganese and aluminium under subterranean clover pasture. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. Anim. Husb. 23, 181–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davies D D 1973 Control of and by pH. In Rate Control of Biological Processes. Symp. Soc. Exp. Biol. pp 513–30 Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. deVries W and Breeuwsma A 1987 The relation between soil acidification and element cycling. Water Air Soil Pollut. 35, 293–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dijkshoorn W 1962 Metabolic regulations of the alkaline effect of nitrate utilization in plants. Nature 194, 165–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Donald C M and Williams C H 1954 Fertility and Productivity of a podzolic soil as influenced by subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum L.) and superphosphate. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 5, 664–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Field T R O, Theobald P W, Ball P R and Clothier B E 1985 Leaching loss of nitrate from cattle urine applied to a lysimeter. Proc. Agron. Soc. 15, 137–41.Google Scholar
  17. Floate M J S and Cossens G S 1985 Pasture responses to lime in the South Island, New Zealand. In Lime in New Zealand Agriculture. Ed. B L JJackson and D CEdmeades. pp 7–9. Ruakura Soil and Plant Research Station, Hamilton.Google Scholar
  18. Haynes R J 1983 Soil acidification induced by leguminous crops. Grass Forage Sci. 38, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haynes R J and Goh K M 1978 Ammonium and nitrate nutrition of plants. Biol. Rev. 53, 465–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Helyar K R 1976 Nitrogen cycling and soil acidification. J. Aust. Inst. Agric. Sci. 42, 217–21.Google Scholar
  21. Houba V J G, Egmond Fvan and Wittich E M 1971 Changes in production of organic nitrogen and carboxylates in young sugarbeet plants grown in nutrient solutions of different nitrogen composition. Neth. J. Agric. Sci. 19, 39–47.Google Scholar
  22. Israel D W and Jackson W A 1978 The influence nutrition on ion uptake and translocation by leguminous plants. In Mineral Nutrition of Legumes in Tropical and Subtropical Soils. Eds. C SAndrew and E JKamprath. pp. 113–129. CSIRO, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  23. Jarvis S C and Robson A D 1983a The effects of nitrogen nutrition of plants on the development of acidity in Western Australian soils. I. Effects with subterranean clover grown under leaching conditions. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 34, 341–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jarvis S C and Robson A D 1983b The effects of nitrogen nutrition of plants on the development of acidity in Western Australian soils. II. Effects of differences in cation/anion balance between plant species grown under non-leaching conditions. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 34, 355–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnston A E, Goulding K W T and Poulton P R 1986 Soil acidification during more than 100 years under permanent grassland and woodland at Rothamsted. Soil Use Manage. 2, 3–10.Google Scholar
  26. Khonje D J, Varsa E C and Klubek B 1989 The acidulation effects of nitrogenous fertilizers on selected chemical and microbiological properties of soil. Commun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal. 20, 1377–1395.Google Scholar
  27. Kirkby E A and Knight A H 1977 Influence of the level of nitrate nutrition on ion uptake and assimilation, organic acid accumulation, and cation-anion balance in whole tomato plants. Plant Physiol. 60 349–53.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Ledgard S F and Peoples M B 1988 Measurement of nitrogen fixation in the field. In Advances in Nitrogen Cycling in Agricultural Ecosystems. Ed. J RWilson. pp 351–367. C.A.B. International, Wallingford, UK.Google Scholar
  29. Lee B 1980 Farming brings acid soils. Rur. Res. 106, 4–9.Google Scholar
  30. Lewis D C, Clarke A L and Hall W B 1987 Accumulation of plant nutrients and changes in soil properties of sandy soils under fertilized pasture in south-eastern South Australia. II. Total sulphur and nitrogen, organic carbon and pH. Aust. J. Soil. Res. 25, 203–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lyklema J C 1963 The absorption of ammonium and nitrate by perennial ryegrass. Acta Bot. Neerl. 12, 361–423.Google Scholar
  32. Mason M G 1980 An investigation of reduction in wheat yield after use of high levels of ammonium sulphate for a number of years. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. Anim. Husb. 20, 210–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Metson A J and Saunders W M H 1978 Seasonal variations in the chemical composition of pasture. N.Z. J. Agric. Res. 21, 341–64.Google Scholar
  34. Miller M H, Mamaril C P and Blair G J 1970 Ammonium effects on phosphorus absorption through pH changes and phosphorus precipitation at the soil-root interface. Agron. J. 62, 524–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nyatsanga T and Pierre W H 1973 Effect of nitrogen fixation by legumes on soil acidity. Agron. J. 65, 936–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pate J S 1980 Transport and partioning of nitrogenous solutes. Annu. Rev. Plant Physiol. 31, 313–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pierre W H and Banwart W L 1973 Excess-base and excessbase/nitrogen ratio of various crops species and parts of plants. Agron. J. 65 91–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pierre W H, Webb J R and Shrader W D 1971 Quantitative effects of nitrogen fertilizer on the development and downward movements of soil acidity in relation to level of fertilization and crop removal in a continous corn cropping system. Agron. J. 63, 291–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pringle R M, Edmeades D C, Shannon P W and Mansell G P 1985 Duration of lime effects on the pH of North Island mineral soils. In Lime in New Zealand Agriculture. Eds. B L JJackson and D CEdmeades. pp 25–28. Ruakura Soil and Plant Research Station, Hamilton.Google Scholar
  40. Raven J A and Smith F A 1976 Nitrogen assimilation and transport in vascular land plants in relation to intercellular pH regulation. New. Phytol. 76, 415–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Riley D and Barber S A 1969 Bicarbonate accumulation and pH changes at the soybean (Glycine max L. Merr) root-soil interface. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 33, 905–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Riley D and Barber S A 1971 Effect of ammonium and nitrate fertilization on phosphorus uptake as related to root-induced pH changes at the root-soil interface. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 35, 301–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Russell E W 1988 Soil Conditions and Plant Growth. Ed. A Wild. Longman Scientific and Technical, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Russell J S 1960 Soil fertility changes in the long-term experimental plots at Kybybolite, South Australia. 1. Changes in pH, total nitrogen, organic carbon, and bulk density. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 11, 902–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Smiley R W 1974 Rhizosphere pH as influenced by plants, soils and nitrogen fertilizers. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 38, 795–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Soon Y K and Miller M H 1977 Changes in the rhizosphere due to NH4 + and NO3 - fertilization and phosphorus uptake by corn seedlings (Zea mays L.). Soil Sci. Am. Proc. 41, 77–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Steele K W 1982 Nitrogen in grassland soils. In Nitrogen Fertilizers in New Zealand Agriculture. Ed. P BLynch. pp 29–44, Ray Richards, Auckland.Google Scholar
  48. Steele K W, Judd M J and Shannon P W 1984 Leaching of nitrate and other nutrients from a grazed pasture. N.Z. J. Agric. Res. 27, 5–11.Google Scholar
  49. Steele K W and Vallis I 1988 The nitrogen cycle in pastures. In Advances in Nitrogen Cycling in Agricultural Ecosystems Ed. J RWilson. pp 274–291. C.A.B. International, Wallingford, UK.Google Scholar
  50. Thomas G W and Hargrove W L 1984 The chemistry of soil acidity. In Soil acidity and liming Ed. FAdams. pp 4–56. Agronomy Monograph No. 12. ASA, CSSA and SSSA, Madison, WI.Google Scholar
  51. vanBeusichem M L 1981 Nutrient absorption by pea plants during dinitrogen fixation. 1. Comparison with nitrate nutrition. Neth. J. Agric. Sci. 29, 259–72.Google Scholar
  52. Weinberger P and Yee D 1984 The influence of nitrogen sources on root-mediated changes in substrate pH. Can. J. Bot. 62, 161–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wen-Chen Liu, Lund L J and Page A L 1989 Acidity produced by leguminous plants through symbiotic dinitrogen fixation. J. Environ. Qual. 18, 529–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams C H and Donald C M 1957 Changes in organic matter and pH in a podzolic soils as influenced by subterranean clover and superphosphate. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 8, 179–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Williams P H, Gregg P E H and Hedley M J 1990 Use of potassium bromide solutions to simulate cow urine flow and retention in pasture soils. N.Z. J. Agric. Res. 33.Google Scholar
  56. Williams C H 1980 Soil acidification under clover. Aust. J. Exp. Agric. Anim. Husb. 20, 561–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. S. Bolan
    • 1
  • M. J. Hedley
    • 1
  • R. E. White
    • 1
  1. 1.Fertilizer and Lime Research CentreMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations