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Methodological limitations and N-budget differences among a restored tallgrass prairie and maize agroecosystems

Brye, K.R., Norman, J.M., Gower, S.T., Bundy, L.G.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2003 v.97 no.1-3 pp. 181-198
Argiudolls, Food and Agriculture Organization, Phaeozems, Zea mays, agroecosystems, atmospheric deposition, bulk density, corn, denitrification, environmental health, fertilizers, leaching, mineralization, nitrogen, no-tillage, nutrient use efficiency, runoff, silt loam soils, uncertainty, Wisconsin
Interpretation of elemental balances requires careful assessment of component terms and their errors, especially for the major terms of the nitrogen (N) budget which has implications for environmental health. This study reports results from independent field measurements of major annual N-budget components, including atmospheric deposition, fertilizer added, net mineralization, residue returned, soil storage changes of inorganic N, leaching, and plant uptake. Measurements were made in a restored tallgrass prairie and optimally and deficiently N-fertilized, no-tillage and chisel-plowed maize (Zea mays L.) agroecosystems on Plano silt loam soil (fine-silty, mixed, superactive, mesic Typic Argiudoll (USDA); Haplic Phaeozem (approximate FAO)) in Wisconsin between 1995 and 1999. Denitrification and N losses due to runoff were assumed negligible and bulk density was assumed uniform with depth and across ecosystems. Annual inorganic N leaching was negligible in the restored prairie, but represented 3–57% of the amount of fertilizer-N applied in the optimally N-fertilized agroecosystems. On an annual basis, closure of the inorganic-N budget yielded cumulative errors that were often undesirably large; indicating methodological problems with quantifying ecosystem N cycling in situ. Increased spatial sampling is required to reduce individual measurement errors of two components with large uncertainties; namely net N-mineralization and soil inorganic N changes. Profile-scaled net N-mineralization generally did not balance with the residue N input from the previous year, but the imbalance agreed with the N-budget imbalance. Both results suggest that the prairie is accumulating N slowly, the deficiently N-fertilized maize plots are losing N more rapidly, and the optimally N-fertilized maize plots have too large an uncertainty to be interpreted confidently. Nitrogen-use efficiency, defined on a N-uptake basis, did not differ among the prairie and deficiently N-fertilized maize for 3 out of 5 years, but the prairie was significantly more efficient than the optimally N-fertilized maize.