Trade-offs and synergies between seed yield, forage yield, and N-related disservices for a semi-arid perennial grassland under different nitrogen fertilization strategies

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A 15N labeling and lysimeter experiment was conducted with mesocosms of a semi-arid Leymus chinensis grassland. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of N fertilization timing (fertilization in fall or spring) and rate (0, 56, and 112 kg-N ha−1 year−1) on ecosystem services (seed yield and forage yield), ecosystem disservices (N leaching surveyed during 1 year and emissions of NH3 and N2O integrated over 76 days after fertilization), and recovery of added fertilizer N in plants and soil. Seed and forage yields increased more under fall than spring N fertilization. Further, N fertilization was linked to higher soil NH3 and N2O emissions, particularly under high N rate for both NH3 (2.0 and 1.6 kg-N ha−1 under fall and spring N fertilization, respectively) and N2O (0.24 and 0.21 kg-N ha−1, respectively). N leaching was never observed. A significant N fertilization timing × rate interaction effect was observed on plant recovery efficiency of added fertilizer N (Plant-NRE). Plant-NRE was higher for high than moderate N rate, with + 13.2% (from 22.8 to 36%) and + 16.4% (from 28.2 to 44.7%) for fall and spring fertilization, respectively. Fertilizer N recovered in soil was highest for moderate N rate in fall (68% of total N fertilizer) and lowest for high N rate in spring (46%). Our results show synergies among the ecosystem services (seed and forage yields) and among the disservices (NH3 and N2O emissions), and trade-offs between the services and disservices, some of these synergies and trade-offs being modulated by N fertilization timing and rate. Our study is the first one analyzing the possibly interactive effects of the N fertilization timing and rate on this range of ecosystem services and disservices in semi-arid perennial grasslands, which can be useful for N risk: benefit analysis when evaluating N fertilization strategies.

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Fig. A1

Schematic representation of a mesocosm set up using an intact planted soil monolith excavated on the study site and allowing the collection of leachates (drawn by JiaXin Li and JiaXin Wu) (PNG 1719 kb)

Fig. A2

Effects of the timing, T (fall or spring) and rate, R (0, 56 or 112 kg-N ha−1) of fertilization on (a) seed yield, and (b) forage yield. Values are means ± s.e. (n = 4). For statistical results, see Table 1 (PNG 166 kb)

Fig. A3

Effects of the timing, T (fall or spring) and rate, R (0, 56 or 112 kg-N ha−1) of fertilization on (a) agronomic N use efficiency (aNUE), and (b) physiological N use efficiency (PE). Values are means ± s.e. (n = 4). For statistical results, see Table 3 (PNG 39 kb)

Fig. A4

(a) Monthly mean air temperature and precipitation recorded during the experimental period (from August 2012 to August 2013) and long term averages (from 1961-2013) for the experimental site. (b) Daily precipitation recorded during the experimental period (August 2012 to August 2013); the soil field capacity computed for the soil mesocosms is represented by the dashed horizontal line for comparison. Arrows indicate the N fertilization events in fall (F-N) and in spring (S-N) (PNG 540 kb)

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Table 3 Results of the two-way ANOVA (F values and indication of the significance levels) examining the effects of the timing and rate of N fertilization and of their interaction on the two nitrogen use efficiency metrics. Block effect was never significant. ***P < 0.001; **P < 0.01; *P < 0.05; ns, P > 0.05

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Shi, Y., Wang, J., Le Roux, X. et al. Trade-offs and synergies between seed yield, forage yield, and N-related disservices for a semi-arid perennial grassland under different nitrogen fertilization strategies. Biol Fertil Soils 55, 497–509 (2019) doi:10.1007/s00374-019-01367-6

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  • Nitrogen fertilization timing
  • Nitrogen fertilization rate
  • 15N labeling
  • Ecosystem services
  • NH3 volatilization
  • N2O emission