Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Agriculture, Forestry, Horticulture, Fishery, Domestic Science, Nutrition
Fundamental knowledge about the complex processes during the decomposition, mineralization and transfer of residue organic matter in soils is essential to assess risks of changes in agricultural practices. In a double tracer (13C, 15N) experiment the effect of maize straw on the mineralization dynamics and on the distribution of maize-derived organic matter within particle size fractions was investigated. Maize straw (a C4 plant) labelled with 15N was added to soils (13.2 g dry matter kg–1 soil) which previously had grown only C3 plants, establishing two treatments: (i) soil mixed with maize straw (mixed), and (ii) soil with maize straw applied on the surface (surface). Samples were incubated in the laboratory at 14°C for 365 days. The size fractions (〉 200 μm, 200–63 μm, 63–2 μm, 2–0.1 μm and 〈 0.1 μm), obtained after low-energy sonication (0.2 kJ g–1), were separated by a combination of wet-sieving and centrifuging. The mineralization of maize C was similar in the two treatments after one year. However, decomposition of maize particulate organic matter (predominantly in the fraction 〉 200 μm) was significantly greater in the mixed treatment, and more C derived from the maize was associated with silt- and clay-sized particles. A two-component model fitted to the data yielded a rapidly mineralizable C pool (about 20% of total C) and a slowly mineralizable pool (about 80%). Generally, the size of the rapidly mineralizable C pool was rather small because inorganic N was rapidly immobilized after the addition of maize. However, the different mean half-lives of the C pools (rapidly decomposable mixed 0.035 years, and surface-applied 0.085 years; slowly decomposable mixed 0.96 years, and surface-applied 1.7 years) showed that mineralization was delayed when the straw was left on the surface. This seems to be because there is little contact between the soil microflora and plant residues. Evidently, the organic matter is more decomposed and protected within soil inorganic compounds when mixed into the soil than when applied on the soil surface, despite similar rates of mineralization.
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