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Effects of enhanced efficiency nitrogen fertilizers on NH3 losses in a calcareous fluvo-aquic soil: a laboratory study

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Excessive ammonia (NH3) emission to the atmosphere can cause a series of environmental problems and further cost to human health. Enhanced efficiency nitrogen (N) fertilizers (EENFs) were designed to reduce N losses to the environment and thus to improve fertilizer N use efficiency. The aim of the present study was to test the effectiveness of EENFs on NH3 emissions from surface-broadcast urea (dominant N application method for the studied region) in a fluvo-aquic soil under laboratory conditions.

Materials and methods

The study consisted of five treatments: (1) UREA: common urea; (2) UREA + NP: urea with incorporated nitrification inhibitor nitrapyrin; (3) UREA + DCD: urea with incorporated nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide; (4) UREA + NBPT: urea with incorporated urease inhibitor NBPT [N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide]; (5) PCU, a polymer-coated urea. Urea with or without NP, DCD, and NBPT was dissolved in deionized water and was then carefully broadcast to the soil surface. The polymer-coated urea was surface-broadcast uniformly, and thereafter, deionized water was carefully dripped onto the soil surface. A forced-draft system with a volatilization chamber was employed to measure the NH3 flux. After the main experiment, the upper and lower soil layer was separately homogenized for analysis of soil ammonium N (NH4+-N) and nitrate N (NO3-N) contents.

Results and discussion

The NH3 flux peak for UREA + NP, UREA + DCD, and UREA + NBPT treatment occurred on 5–8 days after fertilizer application, which were 1.04, 1.16, and 0.36 μg N cm−2 h−1, respectively, while NH3 flux for PCU treatment was very low (0.02–0.19 μg N cm−2 h−1) and no obvious NH3 flux peak emerged during the whole experiment. Urea with incorporated NP and DCD increased cumulative NH3 losses by 59% and 202% compared to urea only, respectively, while urea incorporated with NBPT and PCU reduced cumulative NH3 losses by 59% and 82% compared to urea only, respectively,


Our results suggested that NH3 losses were greatly increased by applying the nitrification inhibitors nitrapyrin and dicyandiamide to urea, and nitrification inhibitors need to be carefully used in the fluvo-aquic soil. As surface-broadcast urea is nowadays still the dominant N application method in the NCP, surface application of NBPT-amended urea or PCU would be good options to reduce NH3 losses without having to change farmers’ fertilizer application method.

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This study was funded by the National Key Research and Development Programs of China (grant number 2018YFC0213300, 2017YFD0200105), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 41830751), and contributes to “N-Circle” projects funded by the Newton Fund via UK BBSRC/NERC (grants BB/N013484/1).

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Correspondence to Xiaotang Ju.

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Zhang, C., Xu, R., Su, F. et al. Effects of enhanced efficiency nitrogen fertilizers on NH3 losses in a calcareous fluvo-aquic soil: a laboratory study. J Soils Sediments (2020).

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  • NH3 losses
  • Nitrification inhibitors
  • Urease inhibitors
  • Polymer-coated urea
  • Fluvo-aquic soil
  • North China plain