Liu, Y., S. E. Evans, M. L. Friesen, and L. K. Tiemann. 2022. Root exudates shift how N mineralization and N fixation contribute to the plant-available N supply in low fertility soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 165:108541.

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Nitrogen (N) availability is a primary constraint to plant productivity, especially in marginal lands with inherently low fertility. Root exudates change with plant nutrient status, and are expected to affect the microbially-mediated N transformations (gross N mineralization vs N fixation) in low fertility soil (low soil organic matter). To explore this possibility, we sampled soils from two monoculture switchgrass (var. Cave-In-Rock) plot with and without N addition at two marginal land sites in Michigan, USA. In a two-week lab incubation, we quantified the effect of different root exudates on gross N mineralization and N fixation by adding simulated root exudates (carbohydrates, organic acids) at a rate of 100 μg C g−1 day−1. On average, adding carbohydrates to low fertility soil increased the soil respiration by 254%, the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) by 366% and reduced dissolved organic N (DON) by 40%. In contrast, soils receiving organic acids had 159% more soil respiration, 163% higher DOC concentration and the DON concentration increased by 49%. Analysis of the C recovery in measured pools revealed that root exudates C inputs were nearly equivalent to the DOC, microbial biomass carbon (MBC), and soil respiration in sandy soil, but only 45–74% of the root exudate C was recovered in these pools in the sandy loam soil. This suggests that root exudate C may be adsorbed to mineral particles in the sandy loam soil. Soil treated with organic acids had higher gross N mineralization and N immobilization rates than soil with carbohydrates addition. Adding carbohydrates significantly increased the free-living N fixation rates, compared to organic acid addition. Changes in soil pH, and DON induced by root exudate addition had strong association with N transformation rates and N availability. Gross N mineralization produced more plant-available N than N fixation, as evidenced by higher inorganic N concentration in soils receiving organic acids than carbohydrates. By quantifying how different root exudates affect the contribution of N mineralization and N fixation to the plant-available N pool in low fertility soils, this study enhances our understanding of the “C for N” exchange in the plant rhizosphere.

DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2021.108541

Associated Treatment Areas:

GLBRC Marginal Land Experiment

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