Bayreuther Graduiertenschule für Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften (BayNAT)
Budget and fluxes of nitrogen in mountainous agroecosystems in a summer monsoonal climate under intensive land use
- A balanced nitrogen (N) cycle in intensively managed ecosystems is necessary as it underpins other ecosystem services. This study evaluated the agricultural practices in a typical mountainous catchment in South Korea in respect to N dynamics and their potential effect on water quality with the aim to develop options for a more sustainable catchment management.
In the 1st study, we used two approaches to calculate N budgets for the 5 key crops of the basin at the field scale. The gross and net N budgets for all crop types were found to be positive. Based on the small differences between the results of the two approaches we identified fertilizer N as well as soil Nmin as the dominant N input sources. As fertilizer N application was the major N input source (>50%), its reduction is the major scope of action for N savings at the field scale. A closely linked action is the synchronization of fertilizer N with soil Nmin. The large amount of fertilizer that is applied prior to planting (>60%) at the beginning of the monsoon season revealed that split applications could help reducing the fertilizer N additions and increase the low N use efficiencies (NUE). Based on the significant differences between gross and net N surplus for rice and bean fields, we identified the high amount of plant residues remaining after harvesting (>100 kg N ha-1) as a further factor for potential N savings. The 5 main crops accounted for over 80% of the total catchment N surplus (>400 Mg), even though their contribution to the area was only around 20%. A land use shift to perennial crops with lower N inputs was therefore found to be a possible but spatially limited chance to reduce N surpluses at the catchment scale. The comparison of catchment N surplus with stream N export revealed that 73-86% of the agricultural N surpluses were transported to water bodies in the catchment by either leaching or surface runoff.
In the 2nd study, we followed the fate of fertilizer N in a ridge and furrow (R/F) cultivation with polyethylene (PE) mulch by using 15N tracer. N leaching was simulated with Hydrus 2D. The comparison of 4 N fertilization levels (0, 150, 250 and 350 kg N ha-1) revealed that already 150 kg N ha-1 is sufficient to reach the maximal yield of radishes. Based on the low results of fertilizer N use efficiency (FNUE), we recommend two applications during the first 25 days of growth and a further application around day 50. These split applications adjusted to the plants’ needs increase the FNUE of the radish and decrease the fertilizer N losses during the growing season. However, split applications might be impractical in plastic covered R/F cultivations because mechanical equipment to apply fertilizer under the PE mulch is required. Based on the finding that 15N retention in soil and nitrate concentration in seepage water decreased similarly for ridges and furrows during the entire growing season, we conclude that the PE mulch had no significant effect on 15N retention in soil and on nitrate concentration in seepage water and did therefore not effectively protect the fertilizer in the ridges from percolation. Based on the simulation results, we found that the ridges and furrows contributed approximately an equal amount of leached N to the total amount. We therefore conclude that the PE mulch provided little protection for the fertilizer N in the ridges during heavy rainfall. N leaching amounts were further found to increase linearly with an increase in N addition rate as it is well known for R/F cultivations without PE mulch. The PE mulch did therefore not prevent the linear increase in leaching with an increase in fertilizer N addition. We summarize that without the use of additional measures such as split applications of fertilizer, the application of PE mulch in a summer monsoon climate with heavy rainfall events does not positively influence the N leaching rates.
In the 3rd study, we monitored soil water dynamics in the field and used this data set to simulate the influence of PE mulch on water fluxes with Hydrus 2D. We simulated soil water dynamics in 1) conventional flat tillage (CT); 2) R/F cultivation without PE mulched ridges (RT); and 3) R/F cultivation with PE mulched ridges (RTpm). The comparison of the simulated pressure heads during dry and wet periods revealed that the PE mulch induced significant soil moisture patterns only during the dry periods. During monsoon events, the effect of the PE mulch was dependent on the soil texture and the hydraulic conductivity. Summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of the R/F cultivation with PE mulch on sloped fields, the practice was observed to have the lowest amount of drainage water, the lowest evaporation rates but also the highest surface runoff rates. Hence, PE mulching might be assessed as a tool to reduce percolating water, but it concurrently increases water contribution to the river network by surface runoff.