• 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:

Ecological stoichiometry controls the transformation and retention of plant-derived organic matter to humus in response to nitrogen fertilisation
Soil Biology and Biochemistry (2016)
Damien Finn, Kathryn Page, Kerrilyn Catton, Marco Kienzle, Fiona Robertson, Roger Armstrong, Ram Dalal

Carbon (C) sequestration in soils is a means for increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and is a potential tool for climate change mitigation. One recommended management practice to increase SOC stocks is nitrogen (N) fertilisation, however examples of positive, negative or null SOC effects in response to N addition exist. We evaluated the relative importance of plant molecular structure, soil physical properties and soil ecological stoichiometry in explaining the retention of SOC with and without N addition. We tracked the transformation of 13C pulse-labelled buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) material to the <53 μm silt + clay soil organic C fraction, hereafter named “humus”, over 365-days of incubation in four contrasting agricultural soils, with and without urea-N addition. We hypothesised that: a) humus retention would be soil and litter dependent; b) humus retention would be litter independent once litter C:N ratios were standardised with urea-N addition; and c) humus retention would be improved by urea-N addition. Two and three-way factorial analysis of variance indicated that 13C humus was consistently soil and litter dependent, even when litter C:N ratios were standardised, and that the effect of urea-N addition on 13C humus was also soil and litter dependent. A boosted regression analysis of the effect of 44 plant and soil explanatory variables demonstrated that soil biological and chemical properties had the greatest relative influence on 13C humus. Regression tree analyses demonstrated that the greatest gains in 13C humus occurred in soils of relatively low total organic C, dissolved organic C and microbial biomass C (MBC), or with a combination of relatively high MBC and low C:N ratio. The greatest losses in 13C humus occurred in soils with a combination of relatively high MBC and low total N or increasing C:N ratio. We conclude that soil variables involved in soil ecological stoichiometry exert a greater relative influence on incorporating organic matter as humus compared to plant molecular structure and soil physical properties. Furthermore, we conclude that the effect of N fertilisation on humus retention is dependent upon soil ecological stoichiometry.

Effects of HCl pre -treatment , drying , and storage on the stable isotope ratios of soil and sediment samples
Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry (2016)
Min-Seob Kim, Won-Seok Lee, K. Suresh Kumar, Kyung-Hoon Shin, Wayne Robarge, Minseok Kim, Sang Ryong Lee

RATIONALE: Stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ34S values) analysis has become increasingly important for tracing contaminant sources in environments. Pretreatment of environmental samples allows accurate analysis of stable isotope ratios. The pretreatment of a sample and its subsequent preservation could either contaminate or create experimental artifacts affecting the validity of the resulting C/N ratios and the elemental isotopic contents of a sample. METHODS: The effects of acid pretreatment (0.1, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 13 M HCl) and exposure period (2, 6, 12, 24, and 48 h) on the stable isotopic ratios of marine sediment (MS), river sediment (RS) and terrestrial soil (TS) samples were evaluated. The effects of storage temperatures (–80, –20 and 2°C), storage duration (1 week, 1 to 12 months) and washing steps (1, 2, 3, 5, 7 or 12 times) on the stable isotopic ratios were also considered. The %C, %N and %S, as well as the δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S values, of each sample were measured using continuous flow Elemental Analyzer/Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (EA/IRMS). RESULTS: The HCl treatment was applicable for δ13C analysis. However, the acid concentration and duration of exposure that brought about total removal of carbonate for the three sample types varied; e.g. the TS sample required stronger acid and a shorter exposure time. Storage time also had an effect: the δ13C values were lower and the δ15N and δ34S values higher after storage for 300 days. CONCLUSIONS: HCl pretreatment effectively eliminates carbonates and thereby helps δ13C analysis of the organic fraction. HCl pretreatment is not recommended for δ15N and δ34S analysis. Freeze-drying of samples is recommended rather than oven drying. A temperature-dependent change in the isotopic ratios of long-term stored samples was observed during this study; therefore, relatively short-term storage (–80°C) of freeze-dried samples is preferable

Seasonal dynamics of δ 13 C of C-rich fractions from Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech) fine roots
Plant, Cell & Environment (2016)
Alex Paya, Thorsten E. E. Grams, Taryn L. Bauerle

The (13/12) C ratio in plant roots is likely dynamic depending on root function (storage vs. uptake), but to date, little is known about the effect of season and root order (an indicator of root function) on the isotopic composition of C-rich fractions in roots. To address this, we monitored the stable isotopic composition of one evergreen (Picea abies) and one deciduous (Fagus sylvatica), tree species' roots by measuring δ(13) C of bulk, respired and labile C, and starch from 1(st) /2(nd) and 3(rd) /4(th) order roots during spring and fall root production periods. In both species, root order differences in δ(13) C were observed in bulk organic matter, labile, and respired C fractions. Beech exhibited distinct seasonal trends in δ(13) C of respired C, while spruce did not. In fall, 1(st) /2(nd) order beech roots were significantly depleted in (13) C, whereas spruce roots were enriched compared to higher order roots. Species variation in δ (13) C of respired C may be partially explained by seasonal shifts from enriched to depleted C substrates in deciduous beech roots. Regardless of species identity, differences in stable C isotopic composition of at least two root order groupings (1(st) /2(nd) , 3(rd) /4(th) ) were apparent, and should hereafter be separated in belowground C-supply-chain inquiry.
Tags: carbon , soil , gashead

Plant-derived compounds stimulate the decomposition of organic matter in arctic permafrost soils.
Scientific reports (2016)
Birgit Wild, Norman Gentsch, Petr Čapek, Kateřina Diáková, Ricardo J Eloy Alves, Jiři Bárta, Antje Gittel, Gustaf Hugelius, Anna Knoltsch, Peter Kuhry, Nikolay Lashchinskiy, Robert Mikutta, Juri Palmtag, Christa Schleper, Jörg Schnecker, Olga Shibistova,

Arctic ecosystems are warming rapidly, which is expected to promote soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition. In addition to the direct warming effect, decomposition can also be indirectly stimulated via increased plant productivity and plant-soil C allocation, and this so called "priming effect" might significantly alter the ecosystem C balance. In this study, we provide first mechanistic insights into the susceptibility of SOM decomposition in arctic permafrost soils to priming. By comparing 119 soils from four locations across the Siberian Arctic that cover all horizons of active layer and upper permafrost, we found that an increased availability of plant-derived organic C particularly stimulated decomposition in subsoil horizons where most of the arctic soil carbon is located. Considering the 1,035 Pg of arctic soil carbon, such an additional stimulation of decomposition beyond the direct temperature effect can accelerate net ecosystem C losses, and amplify the positive feedback to global warming.

OPTIMIZED TIMING OF USING CANOPY TEMPERATURE TO SELECT HIGH-YIELDING CULTIVARS OF WINTER WHEAT UNDER DIFFERENT WATER REGIMES
Experimental Agriculture (2016)
XIAOYU ZHANG, XIYING ZHANG, SUYING CHEN, HONGYONG SUN, LIWEI SHAO, XIUWEI LIU

Selecting high-yielding cultivars under drought is an important practice to improve crop production. Canopy temperature (T) shows a relative reliable association with grain yield. In this study, we compared the suitability of canopy T and other agronomic as well as physiological traits associated with grain yield under different water regimes. Field experiments over two seasons (2011–2012 and 2012–2013) were carried out under three water regimes, represented about 64, 76 and 89% of potential evapotranspiration, with 16 local winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cultivars in each season. Results showed that cultivars with higher yield usually performed consistently lower canopy T under three water regimes, while the relationships of grain yield with other agronomic or physiological traits were more influenced by soil moisture. In addition, the relationship between canopy T and grain yield varied with different growth stages: From the time of heading to early grain filling stages, a more significant negative linear relationship (p < 0.001) existed under the three irrigation levels.

Does excess nitrogen supply increase the drought sensitivity of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) seedlings?
Plant Ecology (2016)
Christoph Dziedek, Goddert von Oheimb, Leonor Calvo, Andreas Fichtner, Wolf-Ulrich Kriebitzsch, Elena Marcos, Witja Till Pitz, Werner Härdtle

Climate change and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen affect biodiversity patterns and functions of forest ecosystems worldwide. Many studies have quantified tree growth responses to single global change drivers, but less is known about the interaction effects of these drivers at the plant and ecosystem level. In the present study, we conducted a full-factorial greenhouse experiment to analyse single and combined effects of nitrogen fertilization (N treatment) and drought (D treatment) on 16 morphological and chemical response variables (including tissue δ13C signatures) of one-year-old Fagus sylvatica seedlings originating from eight different seed families from the Cantabrian Mountains (NW Spain). Drought exerted the strongest effect on response variables, reflected by decreasing biomass production and increasing tissue δ13C signatures. However, D and N treatments interacted for some of the response variables, indicating that N fertilization has the potential to strengthen the negative effects of drought (with both antagonistic and amplifying interactions). For example, combined effects of N and D treatments caused a sevenfold increase of necrotic leaf biomass. We hypothesize that increasing drought sensitivity was mainly attributable to a significant reduction of the root biomass in combined N and D treatments, limiting the plants’ capability to satisfy their water demands. Significant seed family effects and interactions of seed family with N and D treatments across response variables suggest a high within-population genetic variability. In conclusion, our findings indicated a high drought sensitivity of Cantabrian beech populations, but also interaction effects of N and D on growth responses of beech seedlings.

The Dynamics of Protein Body Formation in Developing Wheat Grain.
Plant biotechnology journal (2016)
Katie L Moore, Paola Tosi, Richard Palmer, Malcolm J Hawkesford, Chris R M Grovenor, Peter R Shewry

Wheat is a major source of protein in the diets of humans and livestock but we know little about the mechanisms that determine the patterns of protein synthesis in the developing endosperm. We have used a combination of enrichment with (15) N glutamine and NanoSIMS imaging to establish that the substrate required for protein synthesis is transported radially from its point of entrance in the endosperm cavity across the starchy endosperm tissues, before becoming concentrated in the cells immediately below the aleurone layer. This transport occurs continuously during grain development but may be slower in the later stages. Although older starchy endosperm cells tend to contain larger protein deposits formed by the fusion of small protein bodies, small highly enriched protein bodies may also be present in the same cells. This shows a continuous process of protein body initiation, in both older and younger starchy endosperm cells and in all regions of the tissue. Immunolabelling with specific antibodies shows that the patterns of enrichment are not related to the contents of gluten proteins in the protein bodies. In addition to providing new information on the dynamics of protein deposition, the study demonstrates the wider utility of NanoSIMS and isotope labeling for studying complex developmental processes in plant tissues. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , elem

Energizing marginal soils – The establishment of the energy crop Sida hermaphrodita as dependent on digestate fertilization, NPK, and legume intercropping
Biomass and Bioenergy (2016)
Moritz Nabel, Vicky M. Temperton, Hendrik Poorter, Andreas Lücke, Nicolai D. Jablonowski

Growing energy crops in marginal, nutrient-deficient soils is a more sustainable alternative to conventional cultivation. The use of energy-intensive synthetic fertilizers needs to be reduced, preferably via closed nutrient loops in the biomass production cycle. In the present study based on the first growing season of a mesocosm experiment using large bins outdoors, we evaluated the potential of the energy plant Sida hermaphrodita to grow in a marginal sandy soil. We applied different fertilization treatments using either digestate from biogas production or a commercial mineral NPK-fertilizer. To further increase independence from synthetically produced N-fertilizers, the legume plant Medicago sativa was intercropped to introduce atmospherically fixed nitrogen and potentially facilitate the production of additional S. hermaphrodita biomass. We found digestate to be the best performing fertilizer because it produced similar yields as the NPK fertilization but minimized nitrate leaching. Legume intercropping increased the total biomass yield by more than 100% compared to S. hermaphrodita single cropping in the fertilized variants. However, it negatively influenced the performance of S. hermaphrodita in the following year. We conclude that a successful establishment of S. hermaphrodita for biomass production in marginal soils is possible and digestate application formed the best fertilization method when considering a range of aspects including overall yield, nitrate leaching, nitrogen fixation of M. sativa, and sustainability over time.

The Impact of Climate, Sulfur Dioxide, and Industrial Dust on δ 18 O and δ 13 C in Glucose from Pine Tree Rings Growing in an Industrialized Area in the Southern Part of Poland
Water, Air, & Soil Pollution2 (2016)
Barbara M. Sensuła

The mass spectrometric analysis of the impact of sulfur dioxide and dust emission on carbon and oxygen stable isotopic compositions of glucose hydrolysed from α-cellulose samples extracted from Scots pine growing in the vicinity of “Huta Katowice” steelworks was the main aim of this study. The annual rings covered the time span from 1975 to 2012 AD. The relationships between climatic conditions, sulfur dioxide, and industrial dust emission and oxygen and carbon isotopic compositions were analyzed using correlation function methods. This study shows the first analysis of carbon and oxygen stable isotopes in glucose as the bio-indicators of CO2, sulfur dioxide, and industrial dust emission. The anticoincidence trend of δ18O and δ13C and dust and sulfur dioxide confirms that the decreases of dust and sulfur dioxide industrial emission increase δ18O and δ13C values in glucose.

Soil organic carbon content affects the stability of biochar in paddy soil
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment (2016)
Mengxiong Wu, Xingguo Han, Ting Zhong, Mengdong Yuan, Weixiang Wu

Recalcitrant biochar application appears to be a promising method to decelerate global warming through increasing long-term carbon sequestration in soil. Stability of biochar carbon (C), which is the major determining factor of C sequestration effect, depends mainly on biochar physiochemical characteristics and soil properties. However, little is known about biochar C stability in paddy soil. In this study, 13C labeled rice straw (RS) biochar produced at 500°C was incubated with five types of paddy soils to determine the key soil characteristics involved in biochar-C stability. Results showed that cumulative mineralization rates of RS biochar-C incubated with different paddy soils were relatively low (0.17–0.28%) during 390days of incubation. The cumulative mineralization rates of RS biochar-C increased with the increasing native soil total organic carbon (TOC) content. The estimated mean residence time (MRT) of stable C components of RS biochar in paddy soil, varying from 617 to 2829 years, decreased with the increase of soil TOC content. In addition, greater atomic O/C ratio and oxygen-containing functional groups were observed in biochar samples incubated in paddy soils with higher TOC content. These results suggest that RS biochar application could be an effective method for C sequestration in paddy soil. However, the stability of RS biochar in paddy soil would be significantly impacted by soil TOC content. From the perspective of long-term C sequestration, RS biochar is more suitable for applying in paddy soils with lower TOC content.