Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 116, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Input and mineralization of carbon and nitrogen in soil from legume-based cover crops

  • Chiara De NotarisEmail author
  • Jørgen Eivind Olesen
  • Peter Sørensen
  • Jim Rasmussen
Original Article


Legume-based cover crops (CC) provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including nitrate leaching reduction, nitrogen (N) fertilization and soil carbon (C) sequestration. However, the scarcity of information on belowground C and N increases the uncertainty on the magnitude of these effects. We quantified C and N input in soil (hereafter plant-deposition) from red clover and winter vetch CC in pure stands or in mixtures with non-legumes, under field conditions. To do so, we labeled CC plants in situ with 13C (CO2) and 15N (leaf-labeling) throughout their growing period, with frequent multiple-pulses. After sampling, we incubated labeled CC roots and soil in the laboratory to investigate C and N mineralization. Cover crops produced 1.7–2.7 Mg ha−1 aboveground biomass corresponding to 72–86 kg N ha−1, and deposited to the soil 72–183 kg C ha−1 and 29–113 kg N ha−1. Cover crops allocated nearly equal proportions of C and N to above- and belowground fractions. Mineralization of root C was 11–18%, while N mineralization was 39–56% after four months of incubation at 10 °C. Mineral N derived from N plant-deposition to soil was on average 7 kg N ha−1 after incubation, accounting for approximately 10% of mineral N release from red clover shoots and roots. Overall, C and N inputs from legume-based CC are substantially underestimated if plant-deposition is not taken into account. In addition, net mineral N derived from plant-deposition contributes significantly to the N fertilizer effect of legume-based CC.


Catch crops Leaf-labeling 1315 N N Fertilizer effect Soil C sequestration 



The study was part of the RowCrop project funded under Organic RDD2 by the Green Growth and De-velopment programme (GUDP) under Danish Ministry of Environment and Food and coordinated by International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS). Grateful acknowledgments go to the skilled technical support of Erling Nielsen and the staff at Foulumgård.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chiara De Notaris
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jørgen Eivind Olesen
    • 1
  • Peter Sørensen
    • 1
  • Jim Rasmussen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AgroecologyAarhus UniversityTjeleDenmark

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