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Nitrogenase activity in composting horse bedding and leaves


To date little or no nitrogen fixation has been found in composting materials. However, some materials have high C:N ratios and thus might be expected to support nitrogen fixation. We examined windrows of composting horse bedding and leaves for nitrogenase activity via acetylene reduction and used carbon monoxide controls to differentiate ethylene evolved by nitrogenase from that evolved by endogenous processes. In both piles temperatures were substantially elevated and partial pressures of oxygen greatly reduced thus indicating vigorous microbial activity. In the horse bedding, there were only low rates of ethylene evolution and little of this was due to nitrogen fixation. In contrast, much higher rates of ethylene evolution were measured in the leaf pile and 94% of this was due to nitrogenase activity. We estimate that the leaf pile fixed approximately 0.062 mg N/g leaves during a 5-week period.

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Correspondence to Christa R. Schwintzer.

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Schwintzer, C.R., Tjepkema, J.D. & Seekins, B. Nitrogenase activity in composting horse bedding and leaves. Plant and Soil 242, 277–282 (2002).

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  • compost (horse bedding)
  • compost (leaves)
  • ethylene evolution
  • nitrogen fixation
  • nitrogenase activity