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Nitrogen recovery by alley-cropped maize and trees from 15N-labeled tree biomass in the subhumid highlands of Kenya

Abstract

 The effectiveness of tree-leaf biomass as a source of N to crops in agroforestry systems depends on the rate at which crops can obtain N from the biomass. A study was conducted to determine the fate of 15N labeled, soil-applied biomass of two hedgerow species, Calliandra calothyrsus Meissner (calliandra) and Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit (leucaena), in the subhumid highlands of Kenya. Labeled biomass obtained from 15N fertilized trees was applied to microplots in an alley cropping field and maize planted. N uptake and recovery by maize and hedgerow trees was periodically determined over a 20-week period during the short rain (1995) and the long rain (1996) growing seasons. In maize crop from treatments that received leucaena biomass, higher N uptake and recovery were recorded than in maize from the plots that received calliandra biomass. However, N uptake and recovery were higher in calliandra tree hedges than in leucaena hedges, indicating differences in N uptake by the two tree species. The largest fraction (55–69%) of N in the applied tree biomass was left in the soil N pool, 8–13% recovered by maize, 2–3% by tree hedges, and 20–30% could not be accounted for. Some of the unaccounted for N may have been left in the wood and root portions of the tree hedges and in the bulk soil below the 20-cm depth. The study shows that only a small fraction of the N contained in the N-rich biomass that is applied to the soil is taken up by the current season's crop, suggesting that a major benefit may be in the build-up of the soil N store.

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Received: 11 June 1999

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Mugendi, D., Nair, P., Graetz, D. et al. Nitrogen recovery by alley-cropped maize and trees from 15N-labeled tree biomass in the subhumid highlands of Kenya. Biol Fertil Soils 31, 97–101 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/s003740050630

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s003740050630

  • Key words Agroforestry
  • Calliandra
  • Leucaena
  • Nitrogen uptake
  • Soil nitrogen pool