• UNDERSTAND
    Soil Dynamics
  • UNDERSTAND
    Fertilizer Application
  • UNDERSTAND
    Plant Physiology

Soil, Plant & Fertilizer

The performance of a particular plant or an entire crop is highly dependent on the fertility of the soil it is growing in. Soil fertility is a multi-faceted analysis of elemental concentrations and biological activity. To get a complete picture of soil fertility, concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, as well as the differentiation of carbon into total organic or total inorganic carbon (TOC or TIC) fractions, are all relevant parameters. Improving soil health by fertilization requires accurate measurements of a wide range of soils and fertilizers. Elementar’s wide range of multi- and single-element analyzers provide individualized solutions to even the most challenging problems.

Soil C:N ratio

The carbon and nitrogen content of soil is directly related to its ability to support healthy plant growth. The vario MAX cube is specially suited to soil analysis. Capable of measuring up to 5 g of soil means that sample inhomogeneity is not an issue. Automated ash removal reduces maintenance requirements and increases productivity. A unique purge-and-trap gas separation system means that even C:N ratios of 7000:1 are perfectly resolved. Additional options, such as using argon as the carrier gas and measuring sulfur or TOC, make the vario MAX cube a versatile, robust solution for soil elemental analysis.

Nitrogen in Fertilizer

The rapid MAX N exceed is ideal for determining the nitrogen content in fertilizer. With sample sizes up to 5 grams of inorganic or 1 gram of organic material, sample preparation in many cases is as easy as weighing the sample into the reusable steel crucibles.

Sulfur in Fertilizer

With the reduction of external sulfur sources, maintaining proper sulfur levels in soil by fertilization is becoming more important. The vario MACRO cube is the world’s only macro sample (up to 1 g) analyzer capable of measuring carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur all in one sample. The wide dynamic range of the thermal conductivity detector enables the accurate determination of sulfur from a fraction of a percent up to 100 % with just one calibration range. Whether interested in just sulfur or any combination of CHNS, the vario MACRO cube provides timely, reliable results with little maintenance, saving you time and money.

Carbon fractions

The total organic carbon (TOC) analysis provides essential information about microbiological activity and organic matter to characterize and evaluate soil and sediment. Soils can also contain a large amount of biologically inaccessible inorganic carbon (TIC), typically in the form of carbonates. Elemental carbon (ROC) is a further common source of carbon, which is also not bio-available. Separately measuring this third carbon fraction can give a much more accurate determination of bio-available, and thus environmentally relevant, TOC compared to acidification method. The revolutionary soli TOC cube measures these three carbon fractions in soils and other solids in a single sample without the need for corrosive acids, providing reliable results with minimal user input.

Soil & plant science publications using our instruments

Our customers use our instruments to do some amazing research in the soil & plant science application field. To show you how they perform their research and how they use our IRMS instruments, we have collected a range of peer-reviewed publications which cite our products. You can find the citations below and then follow the links to the publishing journal should you wish to download the publication.

If you would like to investigate our available citations in more detail, or email the citation list to yourself or your colleagues then take a look at our full citation database.

172 results:

High retention of (15) N-labeled nitrogen deposition in a nitrogen saturated old-growth tropical forest.
Global change biology (2016)
Geshere Abdisa Gurmesa, Xiankai Lu, Per Gundersen, Qinggong Mao, Kaijun Zhou, Yunting Fang, Jiangming Mo

The effects of increased reactive nitrogen (N) deposition in forests depend largely on its fate in the ecosystems. However, our knowledge on the fates of deposited N in tropical forest ecosystems and its retention mechanisms is limited. Here, we report the results from the first whole ecosystem (15) N labeling experiment performed in a N-rich old-growth tropical forest in southern China. We added (15) N tracer monthly as (15) NH4 (15) NO3 for one year to control plots and to N-fertilized plots (N-plots, receiving additions of 50 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) for 10 years). Tracer recoveries in major ecosystem compartments were quantified four months after the last addition. Tracer recoveries in soil solution were monitored monthly to quantify leaching losses. Total tracer recovery in plant and soil (N retention) in the control plots was 72% and similar to those observed in temperate forests. The retention decreased to 52% in the N-plots. Soil was the dominant sink, retaining 37% and 28% of the labeled N input in the control and N-plots, respectively. Leaching below 20 cm was 50 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) in the control plots and was close to the N input (51 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) ), indicating N-saturation of the top soil. Nitrogen addition increased N leaching to 73 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) . However, out of these only 7 and 23 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) in the control and N-plots, respectively, originated from the labeled N input. Our findings indicate that deposited N, like in temperate forests, is largely incorporated into plant and soil pools in the short term, although the forest is N-saturated, but high cycling rates may later release the N for leaching and/or gaseous loss. Thus, N cycling rates rather than short term N retention represent the main difference between temperate forests and the studied tropical forest. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Tags: nitrogen , soil , gashead

Exogenous nutrients and carbon resource change the responses of soil organic matter decomposition and nitrogen immobilization to nitrogen deposition.
Scientific reports (2016)
Ping He, Song-Ze Wan, Xiang-Min Fang, Fang-Chao Wang, Fu-Sheng Chen

It is unclear whether exogenous nutrients and carbon (C) additions alter substrate immobilization to deposited nitrogen (N) during decomposition. In this study, we used laboratory microcosm experiments and (15)N isotope tracer techniques with five different treatments including N addition, N+non-N nutrients addition, N+C addition, N+non-N nutrients+C addition and control, to investigate the coupling effects of non-N nutrients, C addition and N deposition on forest floor decomposition in subtropical China. The results indicated that N deposition inhibited soil organic matter and litter decomposition by 66% and 38%, respectively. Soil immobilized (15)N following N addition was lowest among treatments. Litter (15)N immobilized following N addition was significantly higher and lower than that of combined treatments during the early and late decomposition stage, respectively. Both soil and litter extractable mineral N were lower in combined treatments than in N addition treatment. Since soil N immobilization and litter N release were respectively enhanced and inhibited with elevated non-N nutrient and C resources, it can be speculated that the N leaching due to N deposition decreases with increasing nutrient and C resources. This study should advance our understanding of how forests responds the elevated N deposition.

Use of stable carbon isotope ratios to determine the source of cypermethrin in so-called natural plant extract formulations used for organic farming.
Isotopes in environmental and health studies (2016)
Hiroto Kawashima, Takuro Kariya

Some natural plant extract formulations (NPEFs, also referred to as essential oils) used in organic farming have been shown to contain synthetic pesticides. We obtained samples of four NPEFs (Muso, Hekiro, Kensogen-Ten, and Nurse Green) that were contaminated with the synthetic pyrethroid cypermethrin, and we used gas chromatography coupled with combustion, cryofocusing, and isotope ratio mass spectrometry to determine the stable carbon isotope ratios (δ(13)C) for the cypermethrin in the four NPEF samples, as well as in ten cypermethrin reagents and two commercial pesticide formulations (Agrothrin emulsion and Agrothrin water-dispersible powder). Our goal was to identify the source of the cypermethrin in the NPEFs. Cryofocusing markedly sharpened the cypermethrin peak and thus improved the accuracy and precision of the determined δ(13)C values. The δ(13)C values (± SD) of the 16 cypermethrin samples ranged from -28.3 ± 0.2 to -24.5 ± 0.2 ‰. Surprisingly, the four NPEFs showed similar δ(13)C values (-26.8 to -27.3 ‰), suggesting that the cypermethrin in all the samples came from the same source (either the same chemical reaction or the same primary material). This possibility was supported by previously published results. In addition, the δ(13)C values of the two commercial pesticides were similar to the values for the NPEFs, suggesting that the commercial pesticides had been diluted and sold as NPEFs.

Diel variations in carbon isotopic composition and concentration of organic acids and their impact on plant dark respiration in different species.
Plant biology (Stuttgart, Germany) (2016)
Marco M Lehmann, Frederik Wegener, Roland A Werner, Christiane Werner

Leaf respiration in the dark and its isotopic composition (δ(13) CR ) contain information about internal metabolic processes and respiratory substrates. δ(13) CR is known to be (13) C enriched compared to potential respiratory substrates, in particular shortly upon darkening during the light enhanced dark respiration (LEDR). This phenomenon might be driven by respiration of accumulated (13) C enriched organic acids, however, studies on δ(13) CR during LEDR and potential respiratory substrates simultaneously are rare. We determined δ(13) CR and respiration rates (R) during LEDR, as well as δ(13) C and concentrations of potential respiratory substrates using compound-specific isotope analyses. The measurements were conducted along the diel cycle in several plant species under different environmental conditions. δ(13) CR and R patterns during LEDR were strongly species-specific and showed an initial peak, which was followed by a progressive decrease in both values. The species-specific differences in δ(13) CR and R during LEDR may be partially explained by the isotopic composition of organic acids (e.g. oxalate, isocitrate, quinate, shikimate, malate), which were (13) C enriched compared to other respiratory substrates (e.g. sugars and amino acids). However, the diel variations in both δ(13) C and concentrations of the organic acids were generally low. Thus, additional factors such as the heterogeneous isotope distribution in organic acids and the relative contribution of the organic acids to respiration are required to explain the strong (13) C enrichment in leaf dark-respired CO2 . This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Tags: carbon , soil , gashead

Distribution and storage of crop residue carbon in aggregates and its contribution to organic carbon of soil with low fertility
Soil and Tillage Research (2016)
Shuangyi Li, Xin Gu, Jie Zhuang, Tingting An, Jiubo Pei, Hongtu Xie, Hui Li, Shifeng Fu, Jingkuan Wang

Long-term intensive cultivation leads to the decrease of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil fertility. Crop residue amendment to soil is documented as an effective measure to increase SOC and improve soil productivity. However, there is limited information on the turnover and storage of crop residue carbon (C) in soil aggregates after the residue is added to soil with low fertility. The objectives of this research were to investigate the distribution and storage of residue C in soil aggregates and its contribution to different physical fractions of SOC, and to quantify the turnover of residue C in soil with low fertility. Soil samples added with 13C-labelled maize straw residue were put into carborundum tubes for two-year long in-situ incubation. Soil aggregates were separated by wet sieving and then physically fractionated. During the whole incubation process, 12–15% of residue C was stably distributed to 2000–250 mm aggregates, while the percentage of residue C distributed to microaggregates (<250 mm) increased with incubation time. The contribution of residue C to particulate organic C (POC) fractions decreased from average 63% on day 60 to average 43% on day 720 and that to mineral-associated organic C (mSOC) fraction increased from average 23% on day 60 to average 28% on day 720. More than 50% of fine POC (fPOC) was derived from residue C, especially 71% in microaggregates on day 360. Within aggregates, the percentages of residue C distributed to free light organic C (fLOC) and coarse POC (cPOC) reduced and these to fPOC and mSOC strengthened with incubation time. Mean residence time (MRT) of residue C was shortened with the increase of the aggregate sizes. MRT of mSOC was longer compared to other SOC physical fractions. These results suggest that microaggregates could provide favorable conditions for microbial activities and conduce to fPOC accumulation in a low fertility soil amendment with crop residue.

Priming by Hexanoic Acid Induce Activation of Mevalonic and Linolenic Pathways and Promotes the Emission of Plant Volatiles
Frontiers in Plant Science (2016)
Eugenio Llorens, Gemma Camañes, Leonor Lapeña, Pilar García-Agustín

Hexanoic acid is a short natural monocarboxylic acid present in some fruits and plants. Previous studies reported that soil drench application of this acid induces effective resistance in tomato plants against Botrytis cinerea and Pseudomonas syringae and in citrus against Alternaria alternata and Xanthomonas citri. In this work, we performed an in deep study of the metabolic changes produced in citrus by the application of hexanoic acid in response to the challenge pathogen Alternaria alternata, focusing on the response of the plant. Moreover, we used 13C labeled hexanoic to analyze its behavior inside the plants. Finally, we studied the volatile emission of the treated plants after the challenge inoculation. Drench application of 13C labeled hexanoic demonstrated that this molecule stays in the roots and is not mobilized to the leaves, suggesting long distance induction of resistance. Moreover, the study of the metabolic profile showed an alteration of more than two hundred molecules differentially induced by the application of the compound and the inoculation with the fungus. Bioinformatics analysis of data showed that most of these altered molecules could be related with the mevalonic and linolenic pathways suggesting the implication of these pathways in the induced resistance mediated by hexanoic acid. Finally, the application of this compound showed an enhancement of the emission of 17 volatile metabolites. Taken together, this study indicates that after the application of hexanoic acid this compound remains in the roots, provoking molecular changes that may trigger the defensive response in the rest of the plant mediated by changes in the mevalonic and linolenic pathways and enhancing the emission of volatile compounds, suggesting for the first time the implication of mevalonic pathway in response to hexanoic application.

Comparison of δ(13)C and δ(18)O from cellulose, whole wood, and resin-free whole wood from an old high elevation Pinus uncinata in the Spanish central Pyrenees.
Isotopes in environmental and health studies (2016)
Dana F C Riechelmann, Michael Maus, Willi Dindorf, Oliver Konter, Bernd R Schöne, Jan Esper

δ(13)C and δ(18)O values from sapwood of a single Pinus uncinata tree, from a high elevation site in the Spanish Pyrenees, were determined to evaluate the differences between whole wood and resin-free whole wood. This issue is addressed for the first time with P. uncinata over a 38-year long period. Results are also compared with published isotope values of α-cellulose samples from the same tree. The differences in δ(13)C and δ(18)O between whole wood and resin-free whole wood vary within the analytical uncertainty of 0.3 and 0.5 ‰, respectively, indicating that resin extraction is not necessary for sapwood of P. uncinata. Mean differences between cellulose and whole wood are 0.9 ‰ (δ(13)C) and 5.0 ‰ (δ(18)O), respectively. However, further analyses of different species and other sites are needed to evaluate whether the findings reported here are coherent more generally.
Tags: carbon , oxygen , soil , clim , elem

Stage-specific response of litter decomposition to N and S amendments in a subtropical forest soil
Biology and Fertility of Soils (2016)
Yehong Xu, Jianling Fan, Weixin Ding, Roland Bol, Zengming Chen, Jiafa Luo, Nanthi Bolan

Nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) deposition are important drivers of global climate change, but their effects on litter decomposition remain unclear in the subtropical regions. We investigated the influences of N, S, and their interactions on the decomposition of 13C-labeled Pinus massoniana leaf litter. An orthogonal experiment with three levels of N (0, 81, and 270 mg N kg−1 soil) and S (0, 121, and 405 mg S kg−1 soil) was conducted. We traced the incorporation of 13C-litter into carbon dioxide (CO2), dissolved organic C (DOC), and microbial phospholipids. Over the 420-day incubation, litter decomposition did not respond to low N and S additions but increased under high levels and combined amendments (NS). However, litter-derived CO2 emissions were enhanced during the first 56 days, with a positive interaction of N × S. N additions promoted fungal growth, while S stimulated growth of Gram-positive bacteria, fungi, and actinobacteria. Increased decomposition was related to higher litter-derived DOC and fungi/bacteria ratio. Inversely, N and/or S amendments inhibited decomposition (N > NS > S) from day 57 afterwards, possibly due to C limitation and decreased abundances of Gram-negative bacteria and actinobacteria. These results suggested that N deposition interacted with S to affect litter decomposition, and this effect depended on N and S deposition levels and litter decomposition stage.

Significant difference in hydrogen isotope composition between xylem and tissue water in Populus euphratica.
Plant, cell & environment (2016)
Liangju Zhao, Lixin Wang, Lucas A Cernusak, Xiaohong Liu, Honglang Xiao, Maoxian Zhou, Shiqiang Zhang

Deuterium depletions between stem water and source water have been observed in coastal halophyte plants and in multiple species under greenhouse conditions. However, the location(s) of the isotope fractionation is not clear yet and it is uncertain whether deuterium fractionation appears in other natural environments. In this study, through two extensive field campaigns utilizing a common dryland riparian tree species Populus euphratica Oliv., we showed that no significant δ(18) O differences were found between water source and various plant components, in accord with previous studies. We also found that no deuterium fractionation occurred during P. euphratica water uptake by comparing the deuterium composition (δD) of groundwater and xylem sap. However, remarkable δD differences (up to 26.4‰) between xylem sap and twig water, root water and core water provided direct evidence that deuterium fractionation occurred between xylem sap and root or stem tissue water. This study indicates that deuterium fractionation could be a common phenomenon in drylands, which has important implications in plant water source identification, palaeoclimate reconstruction based on wood cellulose and evapotranspiration partitioning using δD of stem water.
Tags: hydrogen , oxygen , soil , elem

Production and turnover of ectomycorrhizal extramatrical mycelial biomass and necromass under elevated CO2 and nitrogen fertilization.
The New phytologist (2016)
Alf Ekblad, Anna Mikusinska, Göran I Ågren, Lorenzo Menichetti, Håkan Wallander, Rytas Vilgalys, Adam Bahr, Ulrika Eriksson

Extramatrical mycelia (EMM) of ectomycorrhizal fungi are important in carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in forests, but poor knowledge about EMM biomass and necromass turnovers makes the quantification of their role problematic. We studied the impacts of elevated CO2 and N fertilization on EMM production and turnover in a Pinus taeda forest. EMM C was determined by the analysis of ergosterol (biomass), chitin (total bio- and necromass) and total organic C (TOC) of sand-filled mycelium in-growth bags. The production and turnover of EMM bio- and necromass and total C were estimated by modelling. N fertilization reduced the standing EMM biomass C to 57% and its production to 51% of the control (from 238 to 122 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) ), whereas elevated CO2 had no detectable effects. Biomass turnover was high (˜13 yr(-1) ) and unchanged by the treatments. Necromass turnover was slow and was reduced from 1.5 yr(-1) in the control to 0.65 yr(-1) in the N-fertilized treatment. However, TOC data did not support an N effect on necromass turnover. An estimated EMM production ranging from 2.5 to 6% of net primary production stresses the importance of its inclusion in C models. A slow EMM necromass turnover indicates an importance in building up forest humus.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , elem