Sustaining crop productivity while reducing environmental nitrogen losses in the subtropical wheat-maize cropping systems: A comprehensive case study of nitrogen cycling and balance
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Minghua Zhou, Bo Zhu, Brüggemann, N., Dannenmann, M., Yanqiang Wang and Butterbach-Bahl, K. 2016. Sustaining crop productivity while reducing environmental nitrogen losses in the subtropical wheat-maize cropping systems: A comprehensive case study of nitrogen cycling and balance. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 231:1-14.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/75985
Balancing the nitrogen (N) budgets of agricultural systems is essential for sustaining yields at lower environmental costs. However, it is still rare to find reports on the total N budgets of agricultural systems including all N fluxes in the literature. Here, we conducted a comprehensive study on the effects of different N fertilizers (control, synthetic fertilizer, 60% synthetic fertilizer N plus 40% pig manure N, pig manure N applied at the same rate of 280 kg N ha−1 yr−1) on N pools, cycling processes, fluxes and total N balances in a subtropical wheat-maize rotation system in China by monitoring in situ N fluxes combined with field 15N-tracer and 15N isotope-dilution techniques. The warm and wet maize season was associated with significantly larger N losses via gaseous and hydrological pathways than the cooler and drier wheat season. Nitrate leaching and NH3 volatilization were the main N loss pathways, accounting for 78% and 93% of the annual hydrological and gaseous N losses, respectively. The field 15N tracing experiment showed that the wheat system had a high N retention capacity (∼50% of 15N application), although the N residence time was short. In the subsequent maize season, 90% of the residual 15N-labeled fertilizer in the soil that had been applied to the wheat system was utilized by plants or lost to the environment. The combined application of synthetic and organic fertilizers (pig manure) or application of pig manure resulted in significantly higher soil N retention and lower NO3− leaching, while yields remained unaffected. However, the application of manure resulted in larger NH3 volatilization losses compared with the application of synthetic fertilizer alone. Thus, our study suggests that a combination of synthetic and organic N fertilizers is suitable for sustaining agricultural productivity while reducing environmental N losses by fostering interactions between the soil C and N cycles.