Plant and Soil

, Volume 356, Issue 1–2, pp 5–21 | Cite as

Evidence from field nitrogen balance and 15N natural abundance data for the contribution of biological N2 fixation to Brazilian sugarcane varieties

  • Segundo Urquiaga
  • Rogério P. Xavier
  • Rafael F. de Morais
  • Rafael B. Batista
  • Nivaldo Schultz
  • José M. Leite
  • Jerusa Maia e Sá
  • Karolina P. Barbosa
  • Alexander S. de Resende
  • Bruno J. R. Alves
  • Robert M. Boddey
Regular Article



In Brazil N fertilization of sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) is low compared to most other countries. 15N-aided studies and the occurrence of many N2-fixing bacteria associated with cane plants suggest significant contributions from biological N2 fixation (BNF). The objective of this study was to evaluate BNF contributions to nine cane varieties under field conditions using N balance and 15N natural abundance techniques.


The field experiment was planted near Rio de Janeiro in 1989, replanted in 1999 and harvested 13 times until 2004. Soil total N was evaluated at planting and again in 2004. Samples of cane leaves and weeds for the evaluation of 15N natural abundance were taken in 2000, 2003 and 2004.


N accumulation of the commercial cane varieties and a variety of Saccharum spontaneum were persistently high and N balances (60 to 107 kg N ha−1 yr−1) significantly (p < 0.05) positive. The δ15N of leaf samples were lower than any of the weed reference plants and data obtained from a greenhouse study indicated that this was not due to the cane plants tapping into soil of lower 15N abundance at greater depth.


The results indicate that the Brazilian varieties of sugarcane were able to obtain at least 40 kg N ha−1 yr−1 from BNF.


15N natural abundance Biofuel crop Brazilian sugarcane varieties N balance N2 fixation 



The authors express their gratitude to Altiberto M. Baêta and Roberto G. de Souza for the total N and 15N abundance analyses, respectively. The author RPX gratefully acknowledges National Research Council (CNPq) for a PhD Research Fellowship and RFM, RBB, NS and JML for undergraduate fellowships. The authors SU, BJRA and RMB gratefully acknowledge “productivity” fellowships from CNPq and from the program Cientista de Nosso Estado of the Rio State Research Foundation (FAPERJ). The work was funded by Embrapa, CNPq, FAPERJ and the Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro.

Supplementary material

11104_2011_1016_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (3.1 mb)
Fig. S1 Root profiles of: A commercial sugarcane variety CB 47-89, B Emilia sonchifolia (lilac tasselflower), and C Commelina erecta (slender day flower), growing in the experimental plots of the long-term sugarcane experiment. (PDF 3219 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Segundo Urquiaga
    • 1
  • Rogério P. Xavier
    • 2
  • Rafael F. de Morais
    • 3
  • Rafael B. Batista
    • 3
  • Nivaldo Schultz
    • 3
  • José M. Leite
    • 4
  • Jerusa Maia e Sá
    • 5
  • Karolina P. Barbosa
    • 6
  • Alexander S. de Resende
    • 1
  • Bruno J. R. Alves
    • 1
  • Robert M. Boddey
    • 1
  1. 1.Embrapa AgrobiologiaSeropédicaBrazil
  2. 2.Usina ItamaratiOlímpiaBrazil
  3. 3.Departamento do SolosUniversidade Federal Rural do Rio de JaneiroSeropédicaBrazil
  4. 4.Departamento de Solos e Nutrição de PlantasPiracicabaBrazil
  5. 5.Instituto de FitotecniaUniversidade Federal Rural do Rio de JaneiroSeropédicaBrazil
  6. 6.Faculdade de AgronomiaUniversidade Federal Rural do Rio de JaneiroSeropédicaBrazil

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