Soil Dynamics
    Fertilizer Application
    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:

Common mycorrhizal networks amplify competition by preferential mineral nutrient allocation to large host plants
New Phytologist (2016)
Joanna Weremijewicz, Leonel da Silveira Lobo O'Reilly Sternberg, David P. Janos

Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi interconnect plants in common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs) which can amplify competition among neighbors. Amplified competition might result from the fungi supplying mineral nutrients preferentially to hosts that abundantly provide fixed carbon, as suggested by research with organ-cultured roots. We examined whether CMNs supplied 15N preferentially to large, nonshaded, whole plants. We conducted an intraspecific target–neighbor pot experiment with Andropogon gerardii and several AM fungi in intact, severed or prevented CMNs. Neighbors were supplied 15N, and half of the target plants were shaded. Intact CMNs increased target dry weight (DW), intensified competition and increased size inequality. Shading decreased target weight, but shaded plants in intact CMNs had mycorrhizal colonization similar to that of sunlit plants. AM fungi in intact CMNs acquired 15N from the substrate of neighbors and preferentially allocated it to sunlit, large, target plants. Sunlit, intact CMN, target plants acquired as much as 27% of their nitrogen from the vicinity of their neighbors, but shaded targets did not. These results suggest that AM fungi in CMNs preferentially provide mineral nutrients to those conspecific host individuals best able to provide them with fixed carbon or representing the strongest sinks, thereby potentially amplifying asymmetric competition below ground.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , elem

Nitrogen fixation by the reluctant diazotroph Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii (Cyanophyceae)
Journal of Phycology (2016)
Anusuya Willis, Ann W. Chuang, Michele A. Burford

Nitrogen fixation has been proposed as a mechanism that allows the diazotrophic cyanobacterium Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii to bloom in nitrogen-limited freshwater systems. However, it is unclear whether dinitrogen-fixation (N2-fixation) can supplement available dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) for growth, or only provides minimum nitrogen (N) for cell maintenance under DIN deplete conditions. Additionally, the rate at which cells can switch between DIN use and N2-fixation is unknown. This study investigated N2-fixation under a range of nitrate concentrations. Cultures were grown with pre-treatments of nitrate replete (single dose 941 μmol NO3 ̅. L−1) and N-free conditions and then either received a single dose of 941 μmol NO3 ̅. L−1 (N941), 118 μmol. L−1 NO3 ̅ (N118) or 0 N. Heterocysts appeared from days 3 - 5 when treatments of high NO3 ̅ were transferred to N starvation media (N941:N0), and from day-5 in N941 transferred to N118 treatments. Conversely, transferring cells from N0 to N941 resulted in heterocysts being discarded from day-3 and day 5 for N0:N118. Heterocyst appearance correlated with a detectable rate of N2-fixation and up-regulation of nifH gene expression, the discard of heterocysts occurred after sequential reduction of nifH expression and N2-fixation. Nitrate uptake rates were not affected by pre-treatment, suggesting no regulation or saturation of this uptake pathway. These data demonstrate that for C. raciborskii, N2-fixation is regulated by the production or discard of heterocysts. In conclusion, this study has shown that N2-fixation only provides enough N to support relatively low growth under N-limited conditions, and does not supplement nitrate to increase growth rates.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Can intercropping with the world's three major beverage plants help improve the water use of rubber trees?
Journal of Applied Ecology (2016)
Junen Wu, Wenjie Liu, Chunfeng Chen

1.The dramatic expansion of rubber plantations in mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China has caused many eco-environmental problems, especially negative hydrological consequences. These problems have gradually worsened and pose formidable threats to rubber agriculture, especially in light of increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Although rubber-based agroforestry systems are regarded as the best solution for improving the sustainability of rubber agriculture and environmental conservation, plant water use and related interactions have rarely been examined in such systems. 2.We primarily used stable isotope (δD, δ18O, and δ13C) methods to test whether intercropping could improve the water use and extreme weather tolerance (extreme cold and drought in our study) of rubber trees in three types of promising agroforestry systems (i.e. rubber with tea, coffee, and cocoa) in Xishuangbanna, China. 3.We found that the rubber tree is a drought-avoidance plant with strong plasticity with respect to water uptake. This characteristic is reflected by its ability to cope with serious seasonal drought, allowing it to avoid interspecific competition for water. The rubber trees showed wasteful water behaviour unless they were intercropped with tea or coffee. However, these intercropped species exhibited drought-tolerance strategies and maintained lower water use efficiencies to strengthen their competitive capacity for surface soil water. The stable δ13C values of the intercrop leaves indicated that all the agroforestry systems have stable internal microclimatic environments or higher resistance. 4.Synthesis and applications. This study suggests that interspecific competition for water can enhance the water use efficiency of drought-avoidance plants (i.e. rubber trees) and lead to complementarity between the root distributions of plants in rubber agroforestry systems (i.e. rubber with tea, coffee, and cocoa). All agroforestry systems have higher resistance, but tea was the most suitable intercrop in terms of water use because the interspecific competition for water was moderate and the agroforestry system retained much more soil water and improved the water use efficiency of the rubber tree. Considering the root characteristics of the tea trees, we suggest that the crops selected for intercropping with rubber trees should have short lateral roots and a moderate amount of fine roots that overlap with the roots of the rubber trees in the shallow soil layer.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Improved Discrimination for Brassica Vegetables Treated with Agricultural Fertilizers Using a Combined Chemometric Approach
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2016)
Yuwei Yuan, Guixian Hu, Tianjin Chen, Ming Zhao, Yongzhi Zhang, Yong Li, Xiahong Xu, Shengzhi Shao, Jiahong Zhu, Qiang Wang, Karyne M. Rogers

Multielement and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H, δ18O, 207Pb/206Pb, and 208Pb/206Pb) analyses were combined to provide a new chemometric approach to improve the discrimination between organic and conventional Brassica vegetable production. Different combinations of organic and conventional fertilizer treatments were used to demonstrate this authentication approach using Brassica chinensis planted in experimental test pots. Stable isotope analyses (δ15N and δ13C) of B. chinensis using elemental analyzer–isotope ratio mass spectrometry easily distinguished organic and chemical fertilizer treatments. However, for low-level application fertilizer treatments, this dual isotope approach became indistinguishable over time. Using a chemometric approach (combined isotope and elemental approach), organic and chemical fertilizer mixes and low-level applications of synthetic and organic fertilizers were detectable in B. chinensis and their associated soils, improving the detection limit beyond the capacity of indivi...
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , oxygen , food , soil , elem

Improved Discrimination of Brassica Vegetables treated with Agricultural Fertilizers Using a Combined Chemometric Approach
Yuwei Yuan, Guixian Hu, Tianjin Chen, Ming Zhao, Yongzhi Zhang, Yong Li, Xiahong Xu, Shengzhi Shao, Jiahong Zhu, Qiang Wang, Karyne M. Rogers

Multi-element and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H, δ18O, 207Pb/206Pb and 208Pb/206Pb) analyses were combined to provide a new chemometric approach to improve the discrimination between organic and conventional Brassica vegetable production. Different combinations of organic and conventional fertilizer treatments were used to demonstrate this authentication approach using Brassica chinensis (B. chinensis) planted in experimental test pots. Stable isotope analyses (δ15N and δ13C) of B. chinensis using elemental analyzer-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (EA-IRMS) easily distinguished organic and chemical fertilizer treatments. However, for low level application fertilizer treatments, this dual isotope approach became indistinguishable over time. Using a chemometric approach (combined isotope and elemental approach), organic and chemical fertilizer mixes and low level applications of synthetic and organic fertilizers were detectable in B. Chinensis and their associated soils, improving the detection limit beyo...
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , food , soil , elem

Isotope signatures of N2O emitted from vegetable soil: Ammonia oxidation drives N2O production in NH4+-fertilized soil of North China
Scientific Reports (2016)
Wei Zhang, Yuzhong Li, Chunying Xu, Qiaozhen Li, Wei Lin, P. M. Smith, O. Edenhofer, S. A. Montzka, E. J. Dlugokencky, J. H. Butler, R. Prinn, P. Smith, B. Metz, S. K. Lam, R. Well, H. Flessa, X. Lu, X. T. Ju, V. Römheld, H. W. Hu, X. Zhu, M. Burger, T. A

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas. In North China, vegetable fields are amended with high levels of N fertilizer and irrigation water, which causes massive N2O flux. The aim of this study was to determine the contribution of microbial processes to N2O production and characterize isotopic signature effects on N2O source partitioning. We conducted a microcosm study that combined naturally abundant isotopologues and gas inhibitor techniques to analyze N2O flux and its isotopomer signatures [δ15Nbulk, δ18O, and SP (intramolecular 15N site preference)] that emitted from vegetable soil after the addition of NH4+ fertilizers. The results show that ammonia oxidation is the predominant process under high water content (70% water-filled pore space), and nitrifier denitrification contribution increases with increasing N content. δ15Nbulk and δ18O of N2O may not provide information about microbial processes due to great shifts in precursor signatures and atom exchange, especially for soil treated with NH4+ fertilizer. SP and associated two end-member mixing model are useful to distinguish N2O source and contribution. Further work is needed to explore isotopomer signature stability to improve N2O microbial process identification.
Tags: nitrogen , oxygen , soil , gashead

Spring Nitrogen Uptake, Use Efficiency, and Partitioning for Growth in Iris germanica ‘Immortality’
HortScience (2016)
Xiaojie Zhao, Guihong Bi, Richard L. Harkess, Jac J. Varco, Eugene K. Blythe

This study investigated how spring nitrogen (N) application affects N uptake and growth performance in tall bearded (TB) iris ‘Immortality’ (Iris germanica L.). Container-grown iris plants were treated with 0, 5, 10, 15, or 20 mM N from 15NH415NO3 through fertigation using a modified Hoagland’s solution twice a week for 6 weeks in Spring 2013. Increasing N rate increased plant height, total plant dry weight (DW), and N content. Total N content was closely related to total plant DW. The allocation of N to different tissues followed a similar trend as the allocation of DW. In leaves, roots, and rhizomes, increasing N rate increased N uptake and decreased carbon (C) to N ratio (C/N ratio). Leaves were the major sink for N derived from fertilizer (NDFF). As N supply increased, DW accumulation in leaves increased, whereas DW accumulation in roots and rhizomes was unchanged. This indicates increasing N rate contributed more to leaf growth in spring. Nitrogen uptake efficiency (NupE) had a quadratic relationship with increasing N rate and was highest in the 10 mM N treatment, which indicates 10 mM was the optimal N rate for improving NupE in this study.

Carbon Inputs from Miscanthus Displace Older Soil Organic Carbon Without Inducing Priming Soil Carbon Sequestration Below Miscanthus
BioEnergy Research (2016)
Andy D. Robertson, Christian A. Davies, Pete Smith, Andy W. Stott, Emily L. Clark, Niall P. McNamara

The carbon (C) dynamics of a bioenergy system are key to correctly defining its viability as a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuel energy sources. Recent studies have quantified the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of these bioenergy crops, often concluding that C sequestration in soils plays a primary role in offsetting emissions through energy generation. Miscanthus is a particularly promising bioenergy crop and research has shown that soil C stocks can increase by more than 2 t C ha−1 yr−1. In this study, we use a stable isotope (13C) technique to trace the inputs and outputs from soils below a commercial Miscanthus plantation in Lincolnshire, UK, over the first 7 years of growth after conversion from a conventional arable crop. Results suggest that an unchanging total topsoil (0–30 cm) C stock is caused by Miscanthus additions displacing older soil organic matter. Further, using a comparison between bare soil plots (no new Miscanthus inputs) and undisturbed Miscanthus controls, soil respiration was seen to be unaffected through priming by fresh inputs or rhizosphere. The temperature sensitivity of old soil C was also seen to be very similar with and without the presence of live root biomass. Total soil respiration from control plots was dominated by Miscanthus-derived emissions with autotrophic respiration alone accounting for ∼50 % of CO2. Although total soil C stocks did not change significantly over time, the Miscanthus-derived soil C accumulated at a rate of 860 kg C ha−1 yr−1 over the top 30 cm. Ultimately, the results from this study indicate that soil C stocks below Miscanthus plantations do not necessarily increase during the first 7 years.

Ecosystem nitrogen fixation throughout the snow-free period in subarctic tundra: effects of willow and birch litter addition and warming
Global Change Biology (2016)
Kathrin Rousk, Anders Michelsen

Nitrogen (N) fixation in moss-associated cyanobacteria is one of the main sources of available N for N-limited ecosystems such as subarctic tundra. Yet, N2 fixation in mosses is strongly influenced by soil moisture and temperature. Thus, temporal scaling up of low-frequency in situ measurements to several weeks, months or even the entire growing season without taking into account changes in abiotic conditions cannot capture the variation in moss-associated N2 fixation. We therefore aimed to estimate moss-associated N2 fixation throughout the snow-free period in subarctic tundra in field experiments simulating climate change: willow (Salix myrsinifolia) and birch (Betula pubescens spp. tortuosa) litter addition, and warming. To achieve this, we established relationships between measured in situ N2 fixation rates and soil moisture and soil temperature and used high-resolution measurements of soil moisture and soil temperature (hourly from May to October) to model N2 fixation. The modelled N2 fixation rates were highest in the warmed (2.8 ± 0.3 kg N ha−1) and birch litter addition plots (2.8 ± 0.2 kg N ha−1), and lowest in the plots receiving willow litter (1.6 ± 0.2 kg N ha−1). The control plots had intermediate rates (2.2 ± 0.2 kg N ha−1). Further, N2 fixation was highest during the summer in the warmed plots, but was lowest in the litter addition plots during the same period. The temperature and moisture dependence of N2 fixation was different between the climate change treatments, indicating a shift in the N2 fixer community. Our findings, using a combined empirical and modelling approach, suggest that a longer snow-free period and increased temperatures in a future climate will likely lead to higher N2 fixation rates in mosses. Yet, the consequences of increased litter fall on moss-associated N2 fixation due to shrub expansion in the Arctic will depend on the shrub species’ litter traits.
Tags: nitrogen , soil , clim , elem

Nitrogen Transfer from Four Nitrogen-Fixer Associations to Plants and Soils
Ecosystems (2016)
Kathrin Rousk, Pernille Laerkedal Sorensen, Anders Michelsen

Nitrogen (N) fixation is the main source of ‘new’ N for N-limited ecosystems like subarctic and arctic tundra. This crucial ecosystem function is performed by a wide range of N2 fixer (diazotroph) associations that could differ fundamentally in their timing and amount of N release to the soil. To assess the importance of different associative N2 fixers for ecosystem N cycling, we tracked 15N-N2 into four N2-fixer associations (with a legume, lichen, free-living, moss) and into soil, microbial biomass and non-diazotroph-associated plants 3 days and 5 weeks after in situ labelling. In addition, we tracked 13C from 13CO2 labelling to assess if N and C fixation are linked. Three days after labelling, half of the fixed 15N was recovered in the legume soils, indicating a fast release of fixed N2. Within 5 weeks, the free-living N2 fixers released two-thirds of the fixed 15N into the soil, whereas the lichen and moss retained the fixed 15N. Carbon and N2 fixation were linked in the lichen shortly after labelling, in free-living N2 fixers 5 weeks after labelling, and in the moss at both sampling times. The four investigated N2-fixer associations released fixed N2 at different rates into the soil, and non-diazotroph-associated plants have no access to ‘new’ N within several weeks after N2 fixation. Although legumes and free-living N2 fixers are immediate sources of ‘new’ N for N-limited tundra ecosystems, lichens and especially mosses, do not contribute to increase the N pool via N2 fixation in the short term.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , elem