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Effect of soil acidification on the growth and nitrogen use efficiency of maize in Ultisols

Abstract

Purpose

To examine the effect of soil acidification on growth and nitrogen (N) uptake by maize in Ultisols.

Materials and methods

A clay Ultisol derived from Quaternary red earth and a sandy Ultisol derived from tertiary red sandstone were used in this study. A pot experiment was conducted with maize growing in the two Ultisols acidified to different pH values. Urea with 15N abundance of 10.11% was used to investigate the distribution of N fertilizer between soil and plant. Total N content and 15N abundance in plant and soil samples were determined by elemental analysis-isotope mass spectrometry.

Results and discussion

Critical soil pHs of 4.8 and 5.0 were observed for maize growing in the clay and sandy Ultisols, respectively. Below the critical soil pH, increasing soil pH significantly increased maize height and the yield of maize shoots and roots (both P < 0.05), but changes in soil pH showed no significant effect on maize growth above the critical soil pH in both Ultisols. Maize growing in the sandy Ultisol was more sensitive to changes in soil pH than in the clay Ultisol. Increase in the pH in both Ultisols also increased N accumulation in maize, the N derived from fertilizer in maize, physiological N use efficiency, and N use efficiency (NUE) by maize. Changes in soil pH had a greater effect on these parameters below the critical soil pH, compared to above. The change in soil pH had a greater effect on N accumulation in maize, the N derived from fertilizer in maize, and NUE in the sandy Ultisol than in the clay Ultisol. The NUE increased by 24.4% at pH 6.0, compared with pH 4.0 in the clay Ultisol, while the NUE at pH 5.0 was 4.8 times that at pH 4.0 in the sandy Ultisol. The increase in soil pH increased the ratio of N accumulation in maize/soil residue N and decreased the potential loss of fertilizer N from both Ultisols.

Conclusions

Soil acidification inhibited maize growth, reduced N uptake by maize, and thus, decreased NUE. To maintain soil pH of acidic soils above the critical values for crops is of practical importance for sustainable food production in acidic soils.

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Funding

This study was supported by the National Key Research and Development of China (No. 2016YFD0200302) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41877036).

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Correspondence to Renkou Xu.

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Responsible editor: Jianming Xue

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Pan, X., Baquy, MA., Guan, P. et al. Effect of soil acidification on the growth and nitrogen use efficiency of maize in Ultisols. J Soils Sediments 20, 1435–1445 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-019-02515-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-019-02515-z

Keywords

  • 15N labeling
  • Maize growth
  • Nitrogen use efficiency
  • Soil acidification
  • Ultisol