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Interaction effect of nitrogen form and planting density on plant growth and nutrient uptake in maize seedlings

WANG, Peng, WANG, Zhang-kui, SUN, Xi-chao, MU, Xiao-huan, CHEN, Huan, CHEN, Fan-jun, Lixing, Yuan, MI, Guo-hua
Journal of integrative agriculture 2019 v.18 no.5 pp. 1120-1129
adenosine triphosphate, ammonium, carbon, copper, corn, energy, grain yield, hydroponics, iron, leaf area, leaves, nitrates, nitrogen, nutrient uptake, phosphorus, photosynthesis, phytomass, plant density, plant growth, planting density, seedlings
High planting density is essential to increasing maize grain yield. However, single plants suffer from insufficient light under high planting density. Ammonium (NH4+) assimilation consumes less energy converted from radiation than nitrate (NO3−). It is hypothesized that a mixed NO3−/NH4+ supply is more important to improving plant growth and population productivity under high vs. low planting density. Maize plants were grown under hydroponic conditions at two planting densities (low density: 208 plants m−2 and high density: 667 plants m−2) and three nitrogen forms (nitrate only, 75/25NO3−/NH4+ and ammonium only). A significant interaction effect was found between planting density and N form on plant biomass. Compared to nitrate only, 75/25NO3−/NH4+ increased per-plant biomass by 44% under low density, but by 81% under high density. Treatment with 75/25NO3−/NH4+ increased plant ATP, photosynthetic rate, and carbon amount per plant by 31, 7, and 44% under low density, respectively, but by 51, 23, and 95% under high density. Accordingly, carbon level per plant under 75/25NO3−/NH4+ was improved, which increased leaf area, specific leaf weight and total root length, especially for high planting density, increased by 57, 17 and 63%, respectively. Furthermore, under low density, 75/25NO3−/NH4+ increased nitrogen uptake rate, while under high density, 75/25NO3−/NH4+ increased nitrogen, phosphorus, copper and iron uptake rates. By increasing energy use efficiency, an optimum NO3−/NH4+ ratio can improve plant growth and nutrient uptake efficiency, especially under high planting density. In summary, an appropriate supply of NH4+ in addition to nitrate can greatly improve plant growth and promote population productivity of maize under high planting density, and therefore a mixed N form is recommended for high-yielding maize management in the field.