Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 229–242 | Cite as

Urea fertilization decreases soil bacterial diversity, but improves microbial biomass, respiration, and N-cycling potential in a semiarid grassland

  • Chao ZhangEmail author
  • Zilin Song
  • Daohua Zhuang
  • Jie Wang
  • Sisi Xie
  • Guobin LiuEmail author
Original Paper


In this study, changes in plant diversity and aboveground biomass, soil chemical properties, microbial biomass and respiration, microbial composition, and microbial N-cycling potential (represented by the abundance of genes involved in N reaction) were studied after 3 years of urea fertilization (0, 25, 50, and 100 kg N ha−1 year−1) in a semiarid grassland in China. The microbial composition and N-cycling genes were determined using metagenome sequencing. Urea fertilization significantly decreased soil bacterial diversity, possibly through its negative effect on plant diversity, whereas it increased fungal diversity, and microbial biomass and respiration through enhancing aboveground biomass production with increases in the C input into the soil. However, above the threshold N rate of 50 kg N ha−1 year−1, microbial biomass and respiration decreased probably because of a strong N inhibitory effect on aboveground biomass. Further, urea fertilization increased the gene abundances of narH, nrfA, nirB, and napA, which are involved in dissimilatory nitrate reduction, and those of nifH and nifD, involved in N2 fixation, gdh, involved in organic N decomposition, and glnA, involved in glutamine synthesis and ureC. These findings suggested that urea addition has a positive effect on N-turnover potential. Burkholderiales and Rhizobiales play an important role in soil N cycling. Changes in plant community (diversity and biomass) were responsible for the shift in microbial diversity, biomass, and respiration, whereas alterations in inorganic N levels (exchangeable NH4+ and NO3) potentially affected microbial N cycling. Our results show that N-mediated environmental stresses can play an important role in microbial diversity and functions, which appear to be mediated largely by plant–soil interactions.


N addition Plant diversity Microbial community N-cycling genes Semiarid grassland 


Funding information

National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (41771554), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0501707), and the Key Technologies R&D Program of China (2015BAC01B03).

Supplementary material

374_2019_1344_MOESM1_ESM.docx (149 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 148 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess PlateauNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.College of Natural Resources and EnvironmentNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Health Time Gene InstituteShenzhenPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Institute of Soil and Water ConservationChinese Academy of Sciences & Ministry of Water ResourcesYanglingPeople’s Republic of China

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