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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Plant litter variability and soil N mobility

Hongtao Zhong A , Carol Smith B , Brett Robinson B , Young-Nam Kim A and Nicholas Dickinson A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Ecology, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand.

B Department of Soil and Physical Sciences, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand.

C Corresponding author. Email: nicholas.dickinson@lincoln.ac.nz

Soil Research 55(3) 253-263 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR16132
Submitted: 18 May 2016  Accepted: 18 September 2016   Published: 8 November 2016

Abstract

Laboratory incubation studies were used to investigate whether and how variability of different plant litters modifies the mobility of nitrogen in soil. Fallen plant foliage from native New Zealand plants of diverse fibre and nutrient content were selected, with C : N ratios ranging from 14 to 102. Different litters provided substantially different inputs of macro- and micronutrients to soil that affected the mobility of N. Both fibre content and C : N ratios were influential. A primary effect of litter addition to soil was modification of pH, largely attributable to calcium enrichment. Nitrate in soil was reduced by up to 85% following litter amendments. Incorporation of five native plant litters into soil significantly suppressed emissions of nitrous oxide. We interpret these findings in the context of plant residues from naturalistic planting on the borders of farm paddocks that may play a role in tightening the N cycle and restricting spillover of nitrogen pollutants to the wider environment.

Additional keywords: agrobiodiversity, agroecology, nitrate, nitrous oxide, soil amelioration.


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