Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

The role of 15N-depleted fertilizers as tracers in N cycling studies in agroecosystems

  • Phillip M. ChalkEmail author
Review Article


A search of the literature (principally Google Scholar, using the keywords given below) revealed that 120 research papers have been published where 15N-depleted (14N-enriched) fertilizers, including ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, urea and ammonia forms were used as tracers. The studies included annual cereals, vegetables, a grain legume and a fibre crop, and perennial crops including grasses, shrubs (berries), trees (fruits and nuts) and N2-fixing forage, grain and woody legumes and an actinorhizal species. Other minor examples include perennial ornamentals and trees harvested for wood. Applications included estimation of fertilizer recovery in crops, in post-harvest soil and estimation of N losses in the soil–plant system by mass balance. The residual value of 15N-depleted fertilizers and the recovery of 15N-depleted legume residues have also been reported. 15N depleted fertilizers have played an important role in differentiating the relative uptake of fertilizer N to N mobilized in storage tissues with respect to the N nutrition of deciduous horticultural trees, shrubs and vines in spring. The symbiotic dependence of N2-fixing species and transfer to companion non-legumes has been indirectly determined using 15N-depleted fertilizers. Thus 15N-depleted fertilizers have shared the same applications as their 15N-enriched counterparts. Because of their relative cheapness compared with 15N-enriched fertilizers, larger and more representative unconfined plots can be employed in field studies.


15N depleted fertilizer Annuals Perennials Fertilizer use efficiency Residual fertilizer value Unconfined plots 



The author thanks Dr. Shu K. Lam for preparing Fig. 1.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural SciencesUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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