Short-term competition for ammonium and nitrate in tallgrass prairie

Curtis J. Dell, Charles W. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The availability of N limits productivity in tallgrass prairie. Spring burning is common because it results in greater plant productivity despite reducing net N mineralization. To better explain how burning affects inorganic N availability in tallgrass prairie, the partitioning of 15N among plant and soil pools was measured in June and August 1994. Approximately 2.5 μg N g-1 soil was injected as either NH4 or NO 3 to a depth of 15 cm within cores in burned and unburned prairie. Cores were removed from the field 6 d after injection, and 15N recovery in plant and soil N pools was determined. No more than 14% of the applied 15N remained in inorganic form 6 d after application. The largest portion of the applied 15N (35-80%) was recovered in the soil organic nitrogen pool (No). Burning significantly increased the immobilization of both NH4 and NO3 within No, and microbial biomass accounted for ≥50% of the 15N recovered in No. Accumulation of 15N in plants accounted for ≤35% of the applied 15N with a majority recovered from roots. Burning had little effect on 15N recovery in plants; however, 15N accumulations in roots were significantly greater when NO3 was used. Results indicate that immobilization within soil organic matter (SOM) controls the availability of both NH4 and NO3 to plants. Increased immobilization in soils with burning probably results largely from increased microbial N demand resulting from greater litter inputs with wider C to N ratios. Further research is needed to determine if abiotic mechanisms for N immobilization also significantly influence N availability in prairie soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-377
Number of pages7
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science


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