, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 125–139 | Cite as

Nitrogen dynamics and soil nitrate retention in a Coffea arabicaEucalyptus deglupta agroforestry system in Southern Costa Rica

  • Jean-Michel Harmand
  • Hector Ávila
  • Etienne Dambrine
  • Ute Skiba
  • Sergio de Miguel
  • Reina Vanessa Renderos
  • Robert Oliver
  • Francisco Jiménez
  • John Beer
Original Paper


Nitrogen fertilization is a key factor for coffee production but creates a risk of water contamination through nitrate (NO 3 ) leaching in heavily fertilized plantations under high rainfall. The inclusion of fast growing timber trees in these coffee plantations may increase total biomass and reduce nutrient leaching. Potential controls of N loss were measured in an unshaded coffee (Coffea arabica L.) plot and in an adjacent coffee plot shaded with the timber species Eucalyptus deglupta Blume (110 trees ha−1), established on an Acrisol that received 180 kg N ha−1 as ammonium-nitrate and 2,700 mm yr−1 rainfall. Results of the one year study showed that these trees had little effect on the N budget although some N fluxes were modified. Soil N mineralization and nitrification rates in the 0–20 cm soil layer were similar in both systems (≈280 kg N ha−1 yr−1). N export in coffee harvest (2002) was 34 and 25 kg N ha−1 yr−1 in unshaded and shaded coffee, and N accumulation in permanent biomass and litter was 25 and 45 kg N ha−1 yr−1, respectively. The losses in surface runoff (≈0.8 kg mineral N ha−1 yr−1) and N2O emissions (1.9 kg N ha−1 yr−1) were low in both cases. Lysimeters located at 60, 120, and 200 cm depths in shaded coffee, detected average concentrations of 12.9, 6.1 and 1.2 mg NO 3 -N l−1, respectively. Drainage was slightly reduced in the coffee-timber plantation. NO 3 leaching at 200 cm depth was about 27 ± 10 and 16 ± 7 kg N ha−1 yr−1 in unshaded and shaded coffee, respectively. In both plots, very low NO 3 concentrations in soil solution at 200 cm depth (and in groundwater) were apparently due to NO 3 adsorption in the subsoil but the duration of this process is not presently known. In these conventional coffee plantations, fertilization and agroforestry practices must be refined to match plant needs and limit potential NO 3 contamination of subsoil and shallow soil water.


Nitrate leaching Nitrate adsorption N2O emissions N mineralization Water contamination Acrisol (Ultisol) Coffee agroforestry 



actual evapotranspiration


time domain reflectrometry


leaf area index


meter above sea level





The authors thank the Verde Vigor S. A. farm and particularly Marcos Cespedes for maintenance of the on-farm experiment. The authors are also grateful to Pablo Siles (CATIE) for careful assistance in the sample collection and processing and Patricia Leandro (CATIE) for laboratory analyses. The European Commission (INCO project CASCA, ICA4-CT-2001–10071) and the Science and Cultural Cooperation Centre of the French Embassy in Costa Rica provided part of the operational costs of this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Michel Harmand
    • 1
  • Hector Ávila
    • 2
  • Etienne Dambrine
    • 3
  • Ute Skiba
    • 4
  • Sergio de Miguel
    • 5
  • Reina Vanessa Renderos
    • 2
  • Robert Oliver
    • 6
  • Francisco Jiménez
    • 2
  • John Beer
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre de Coopération International en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD)UR Ecosystèmes de plantations, S/C UR SeqBio – IRD (SupAgro)Montpellier cedex 01France
  2. 2.Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñensa (CATIE)TurrialbaCosta Rica
  3. 3.Institut de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA)Biogéochimie des écosystèmes forestiersChampenouxFrance
  4. 4.Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)PenicuikScotland, UK
  5. 5.Forest Technology Centre of Catalonia (CTFC)SolsonaSpain
  6. 6.Centre de Coopération International en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD)UR Risque environnemental lié au recyclageMontpellier cedex5France

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