Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 175–187 | Cite as

Nitrogen in soils, plants, surface water and shallow groundwater in a bahiagrass pasture of Southern Florida, USA

  • Gilbert C. Sigua
  • Robert K. Hubbard
  • Samuel W. Coleman
  • Mimi Williams
Research Article


Despite substantial measurements using both laboratory and field techniques, little is known about the spatial and temporal variability of nitrogen (N) dynamics across the landscapes, especially in agricultural landscapes with cow–calf operations. This study was conducted to assess the comparative levels of total inorganic nitrogen, TIN (NO3–N + NH4–N) among soils, forage, surface water and shallow groundwater (SGW) in bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum, Flueggé) pastures. Soil samples were collected at 0–20, 20–40, 40–60, and 60–100 cm across the pasture’s landscape (top slope, TS; middle slope, MS; and bottom slope, BS) in the spring and fall of 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively. Bi-weekly (2004–2006) groundwater and surface water samples were taken from wells located at TS, MS, and BS and from the run-off/seepage area (SA). Concentrations of NH4–N, NO3–N, and TIN in SGW did not vary with landscape position (LP). However, concentrations of NH4–N, NO3–N, and TIN in water samples collected from the seep area were significantly (P ≤ 0.05) higher when compared to their average concentrations in water samples collected from the different LP. Average concentrations of NO3–N (0.4–0.9 mg l−1) among the different LP were well below the maximum, of 10 mg l−1, set for drinking water. The maximum NO3–N concentrations (averaged across LP) in SGW for 2004, 2005 and 2006 were also below the drinking water standards for NO3–N. Concentration of TIN in soils varied significantly (P ≤ 0.05) with LP and soil depth. Top slope and surface soil (0–20 cm) had the greatest concentrations of TIN. The greatest forage availability of 2,963 ± 798 kg ha−1 and the highest N uptake of 56 ± 12 kg N ha−1 were observed from the TS in 2005. Both forage availability and N uptake of bahiagrass at the BS were consistently the lowest when averaged across LP and years. These results can be attributed to the grazing activities as animals tend to graze more at the BS. The average low soil test value of TN (across LP and soil depth) in our soils of 10.9 mg kg−1 (5.5 kg N ha−1) would indicate that current pasture management including cattle rotation in terms of grazing days and current fertilizer application (inorganic + feces + urine) for bahiagrass pastures may not have negative impact on the environment.


Bahiagrass cow–calf Groundwater Inorganic nitrogen Nutrient cycling Plant uptake Water quality 


  1. Allen LH Jr, Stewart EH, Knisel WG Jr, Stack RA (1976) Seasonal variation in runoff and water quality from the Taylor Creek watershed, Okeechobee County, FL. Soil Crop Sci Soc Fla Proc 35:126–138Google Scholar
  2. Allen LH Jr, Ruddell JM, Rutter GJ, Yates P (1982) Land effects of Taylor Creek water quality. In: Kruse EG et al (eds) Environmentally sound water and soil management. Am Soc Civil Eng, New York, pp 67–77Google Scholar
  3. APHA (1989) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 17th edn. American Public Health Association, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  4. Arthington J, Bohlen P, Roka F (2003) Effect of stocking rate on measures of cow–calf productivity and nutrient load in surface water runoff. University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Gainesville, 4 ppGoogle Scholar
  5. Asmussen LE, Sheridan JM, Allison HD (1975) Water quality inventory of the Southern Coastal Plain and Atlantic Coastal Flatwoods of Georgia. USDA-ARS Publ. ARS-S-49. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogges CF, Flaig EG, Fluck RC (1995) Phosphorus budget basin relationships for Lake Okeechobee tributary basins. Ecol Eng 5:143–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Caporeli F, Nannipiere P, Pedrazzini F (1981) Nitrogen contents of streams draining an agricultural and a forested watershed in central Italy. J Environ Qual 10:72–76Google Scholar
  8. Chambliss CG (1999) Florida forage handbook. Univ. Florida Coop. Ext. Serv. SP253Google Scholar
  9. Decau ML, Simon JC, Jacquet A (2003) Fate of urine in three soils throughout a grazing season. J Environ Qual 32:1405–1413PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Derner JD, Beriske DD, Boutton TW (1997) Does grazing mediate soil carbon and nitrogen accumulation beneath C4, perennial grasses along an environmental gradient? Plant Soil 191:147–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dormaar JF, Johnston A, Smoliak S (1997) Seasonal variations in chemical characteristics of soil organic matter of grazed and ungrazed mixed prairie and fescue grassland. J Range Manag 30:195–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Edwards DR, Hutchens TK, Rhodes RW, Larson BT, Dunn L (2000) Quality of runoff from plots with simulated grazing. J Am Water Resour Assoc 36:1063–1073CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gallagher RN, Weldon GO, Boswell FC (1976) A semi-automated procedure for total nitrogen in plant and soil samples. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 40:887–889Google Scholar
  14. Ganskopp D (2001) Manipulating cattle distribution with salt and water in large arid-land pastures: a GPS/GIS assessment. Appl Anim Behav Sci 73:251–262CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Gary HL, Johnson SR, Ponce SL (1983) Cattle grazing impact on surface water quality in a Colorado Front Range Stream. J Soil Water Conserv 38(2):124–128Google Scholar
  16. George JR, Rhykerd CL, Noller CH, Dillon JE, Burns JC (1973) Effect of N fertilization on dry matter yield, total-N recovery, and nitrate-N concentration of three cool-season forage grass species. Agron J 65:211–216Google Scholar
  17. Grieve IC, Proctor J, Cousins SA (1990) Soil variation with altitude on Volcan Barba Costa Rica. Catena 17:525–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haynes RJ (1981) Competitive aspects of the grass-legume association. Adv Agron 33:227–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haynes RJ, Williams PH (1993) Nutrient cycling and soil fertility in grazed pasture ecosystem. Adv Agron 49:119–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holechek JL (1988) An approach for setting stocking rate. Rangeland 10:10–14Google Scholar
  21. Hubbard RK, Sheridan JM (1983) Water and nitrate-nitrogen losses from a small, upland, coastal plain watershed. J Environ Qual 12:291–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hubbard RK, Asmussen LE, Allison HD (1984) Shallow groundwater quality beneath an intensive multiple-cropping system using center pivot irrigation. J Environ Qual 13:156–161Google Scholar
  23. Hubbard RK, Gascho GJ, Hook JE, Knisel WG (1986) Nitrate movement into shallow ground water through a coastal plain sand. Trans ASAE 29(6):1564–1571Google Scholar
  24. Hyde AG, Law L Jr, Weatherspoon RL, Cheney MD, Eckenrode JJ (1977) Soil survey of Hernando County, FL. USDA-NRCS/University of Florida, Washington, DC/Gainesville, 152 ppGoogle Scholar
  25. Kellogg RL, Lander CH, Moffit DC, Gollehon N (2000) Manure nutrients relative to the capacity of cropland and pastureland to assimilate nutrients: spatial and temporal trends for the United States. USDA-NRCS, Washington, DC, p 93Google Scholar
  26. Khaleel R, Reddy KR, Overcash MR (1980) Transport of potential pollutants in runoff water from land areas receiving animal wastes: a review. Water Res 14:421–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klausner SK, Zwerman PJ, Ellis DF (1974) Surface runoff losses of soluble nitrogen and phosphorus under two systems of soil management. J Environ Qual 3:42–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marrs RH, Proctor J, Heaney A, Mountford MD (1988) Changes in soils, nitrogen mineralization and nitrification along an altitudinal transect in tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. J Ecol 76:466–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Martin SC, Ward DE (1973) Salt and meal-salt help distribute cattle use on semi-desert range. J Range Manag 26:94–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mathews BW, Tritschler JP, Carpenter JR, Sollenberger LE (1999) Soil macronutrients distribution in rotationally stocked kikuyugrass paddocks with short and long grazing periods. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 30:557–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mulvaney RL (1996) Nitrogen-inorganic forms. In: Sparks DL et al (eds) Methods of soil analysis. Part 3. Chemical method. SSSA Book Series No. 5. SSSA, Madison, pp 1123–1185Google Scholar
  32. Munn DA, McLean EO, Ramirez A, Logan TJ (1973) Effect of soil, cover, slope and rainfall factors on soil and phosphorus movement under simulated rainfall conditions. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 37:428–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Odum E (1988) Energy flow in ecosystems: a historical review. Am Zool 8:11–18Google Scholar
  34. Olson RA, Seim EE, Muir J (1973) Influence of agricultural practices on water quality in Nebraska. A survey of streams, groundwater and precipitation. Water Resour Bull 9:301–311Google Scholar
  35. Romkens JJM, Nelson W, Mannering JV (1973) Nitrogen and phosphorus composition of surface runoff as affected by tillage method. J Environ Qual 2:292–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. SAS Institute (2000) SAS/STAT user’s guide. Release 6.03. SAS Institute, Cary 494 ppGoogle Scholar
  37. Schuman GE, Burwell RE, Piest RF, Spomer RG (1973) Nitrogen losses in surface runoff from agricultural watersheds in Missouri Valley losses. J Environ Qual 2:299–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scoones I, Toulmin C (1999) Soil nutrient budgets and balances: what use for policy? Managing Africa’s soils No. 6, Africa, p 23Google Scholar
  39. Seastedt TR, Briggs JM, Gibson DJ (1991) Controls of nitrogen limitation in tallgrass prairie. Oecolgia 87:72–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Senft RL, Rittenhouse LR, Woodmanse RG (1983) The use of regression models to predict spatial patterns of cattle behavior. J Range Manag 36(5):553–557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Senft RL, Rittenhouse LR, Woodmansee RG (1985) Factors influencing selection of resting sites by cattle on shortgrass steppe. J Range Manag 38:295–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Senft RL, Coughenour MB, Bailey DW, Rittenhouse LR, Sala OE, Swift DM (1987) Large herbivore foraging and ecological hierarchies. Bioscience 37:789–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sigua GC, Coleman SW (2007) Sustainable management of nutrients in forage-based pasture soils: effect of animal congregation sites. J Soils Sediments 6(4):249–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sigua GC, Williams MJ, Coleman SW (2004) Levels and changes of soil phosphorus in the subtropical beef cattle pastures. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 35(7&8):975–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sigua GC, Williams MJ, Coleman SW, Starks R (2006) Nitrogen and phosphorus status of soils and trophic state of lakes associated with forage-based beef cattle operations in Florida. J Environ Qual 35:240–252CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith MS (1988) Modeling: three approaches to predicting how herbivore impact is distributed in rangelands. Research Report 628. New Mexico State University, Agricultural Experiment Station, Las CrucesGoogle Scholar
  47. Stout WL, Fales SS, Muller LD, Schnabel RR, Priddy WE, Elwinger GF (1997) Nitrate leaching from cattle urine and faeces in Northeast USA. Soil Sci Soc Am J 61:1787–1794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stout WL, Gburek WJ, Schnabel RR, Folmar GJ, Weaver SR (1998) Soil-climate effects on nitrate leaching from cattle excreta. J Environ Qual 27:992–998CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stout WL, Weaver SR, Gbureck WJ, Folmar GJ, Schnabel RR (2000) Water quality implications of dairy slurry applied to cut pastures in northeast USA. Soil Use Manag 16:189–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. United States Environmental Protection Agency (1987) Quality criteria for water. EPA 440/5-86-001. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  51. Van Horn HH, Newton GL, Kunkle KE (1996) Ruminant nutrition from an environmental perspective: factors affecting whole-farm nutrient balance. J Anim Sci 74:3082–3102PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Wedin DA, Tilman D (1990) Species effects on nitrogen cycling: a test with perennial grasses. Oecologia 84:433–441Google Scholar
  53. White SL, Sheffield RE, Washburn SP, King LD, Green JT Jr (2001) Spatial and time distribution of dairy cattle excreta in an intensive pasture systems. J Environ Qual 30:2180–2187PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Williams MJ, Hammond AC (1999) Rotational vs. continuous intensive stocking management of bahiagrass pastures for cows and calves. Agron J 91:11–16Google Scholar
  55. Williams PH, Haynes RJ (1990) Influence of improved pastures and grazing animals on nutrient cycling within New Zealand soils. NZJ Ecol 14:49–57Google Scholar
  56. Yan T, Frost JP, Keady TWJ, Agnew RE, Mayne CS (2007) Prediction of nitrogen excretion and urine of beef cattle offered diets containing grass silage. J Anim Sci 85:1982–1989CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gilbert C. Sigua
    • 1
  • Robert K. Hubbard
    • 2
  • Samuel W. Coleman
    • 1
  • Mimi Williams
    • 3
  1. 1.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceSubtropical Agricultural Research StationBrooksvilleUSA
  2. 2.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceSoutheast Watershed Research LaboratoryTiftonUSA
  3. 3.United States Department of AgricultureNatural Resources and Conservation ServiceGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations