Plant and Soil

, Volume 227, Issue 1–2, pp 171–183 | Cite as

Below-ground nitrogen transfer between different grassland species: Direct quantification by 15N leaf feeding compared with indirect dilution of soil 15N

  • Henning Høgh-Jensen
  • Jan K. Schjoerring


Nitrogen (N) transfer from one species to another is important for the N cycling in low-input grassland. In the present work, estimates obtained by an indirect 15N dilution technique were compared with estimates obtained by a direct 15N leaf feeding technique over two complete growing seasons in red clover-ryegrass and white clover-ryegrass mixtures under field conditions.

The direct technique confirmed that N transfer between clovers and ryegrass is a bi-directional process. The transfer of N from both clovers to ryegrass occurred within 25 days upon the first labelling event. A very high N transfer occurred from white clover to the associated ryegrass, 4.5 and 7.5 g m−2 in the 1st and 2nd production year, respectively. The corresponding values for transfer from red clover to the associated ryegrass were 1.7 and 3.6 g m−2. Quantified relatively to the total above-ground N content of white clover- ryegrass and red clover-ryegrass mixtures, the N transfer exceeded 50% and 10%, respectively, in three out of seven harvests. The N transfer from 15N labelled grass to associated clovers constituted a relatively constant proportion of approx. 8% of the above-ground N content of the mixtures.

Estimates based on the soil 15N dilution technique generally underestimated the net N transfer by more than 50% compared to the direct 15N labelling technique. Furthermore, the indirect 15N dilution technique estimated only marginal differences between red and white clover in the quantities of N transferred, whereas the direct 15N labelling technique showed the N transfer from white clover to the associated ryegrass to be significantly higher than that involving red clover. It is concluded that N transfer is a much more dynamic and quantitatively important process in grassland than previously recognised.

clover direct 15N leaf labelling facilitation grassland 15N isotope dilution nitrogen transfer ryegrass 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henning Høgh-Jensen
    • 1
  • Jan K. Schjoerring
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural SciencesRoyal Veterinary and Agricultural UniversityTaastrupDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural SciencesRoyal Veterinary and Agricultural UniversityTaastrupDenmark

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