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What |s the |mportance of n|trogen and su|fur?
O Nitrogen and sulfur are both important plant nutrients.
4 Both are found primarily in organic forms in soils mostly in
anionic form (that is they are both negatively charged ions).
4 Both can lead to serious environmental problems.
o|e |n p|ants
O It is an integral part of many essential plant compounds.
O It is a major part of amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins,
which control virtually all biological processes.
O It is central in nucleic acids that contain the genetic structures that
are passed on from generation to generation.
O It is vital in chlorophyll and is essential for carbohydrate use in
O Healthy plant foliage generally contains between 2.5% and 4%
O Plants deficient in nitrogen have pale yellowish-green colour
O Stunted appearance with thin, spindly stems.
O Low protein content and high sugar content.
O When too much nitrogen is available, excessive vegetation growth
O Cell of plant stems become enlarged and weakened with plants
prone to lodging.
O May delay plant maturity.
O Crop quality suffers too.
orms taken up by p|ants
O Plant roots take up nitrogen from the soil solution principally as
nitrates (NO3-) and NH4+ (ammonium) ions.
O The two ions differ in their effect on the pH of the rhizosphere:
4 Nitrate anions move easily to the root with the flow of soil
water and exchange at the root surface with HCO3- and OH-
ions increasing pH levels around the roots (the rhizosphere).
4 Positively-charged ammonium ions exchange on the root´s
surface with H+ ions, lowering pH levels.
r|g|n Ǝ D|str|but|on of -|trogen
O Our atmosphere is dominantly made up of nitrogen (78% N2).
Some 300,000 mg of nitrogen is found in the air above one hectare
O But this gas is inert because of the strong bonds that hold the two
N atoms together, meaning that it is directly unable by plants of
O It takes certain micro-organisms to break these bonds.
O The nitrogen content of surface mineral soils normally range from
0.02% to 0.5%.
O Most cultivated soils have about 0.15% nitrogen in the plough
layer. Such a soil has, on average, about 3.5 mg of nitrogen in the
plough layer and another 3.5 mg in the deeper horizons.
O Most soil nitrogen occurs as part of organic molecules (95-99%).
This means that soil nitrogen closely parallels that of soil organic
matter in distribution.
,|nera||zat|on Ǝ Immob|||zat|on of -|trogen
O Much of the soil nitrogen tied to organic molecules is associated
with the amine group, largely in proteins or as part of humic
O When soil microbes attack these compounds, simple amino
compounds (such as lysine and alanine) are formed.
O These amine compounds are then hydrolyzed, and nitrogen is
released as ammonium ions (NH4-) that, in turn, can be oxidized
into the nitrate form.
O This conversion of organically bound nitrogen into an inorganic
mineral form is called mineralization.
O This process can be reversed as well. This process is called
O This involves soil microorganisms consuming more nitrogen than is
available in the carbonaceous organic residues they are consuming.
Here the soil microorganisms incorporate mineral nitrogen into their
proteins and then, when they die, this organic nitrogen is recycled
a|cu|at|ng -|trogen (-% ,|nera||zat|on
O It is possible to roughly calculate nitrogen mineralization if you
know your soil´s organic matter content, climate, and soil texture.
mineralized/Ha.mdeep = (A kg SOM/100kg soil) (B
kg soil/ha 15cm deep)(Ckg N/100kg SOM) (D kg SOM
A = The amount of SOM in the upper 15cm of soil given in kg SOM
per 100kg soil. This value can range from near 0 to 75%.
B = The weight of the soil per hectare to a depth of 15cm.
C = The amount of N in the SOM.
D = The amount of SOM likely to be mineralized in one year for a
given soil. This depends on soil texture, climate, and management
mmon|um |xat|on by |ay ,|nera|s
O Like other cations (positively charged ions), ammonium ions are
attracted to the negatively-charged surfaces of colloids where they
are held in an exchangeable form.
O However, because of the particular size of ammonium ions (and
potassium ions too) these can be entrapped within the cavities of
crystal structure of certain clays.
O Several clay minerals with a 2:1 Type structure have the capacity
to fix both ammonium and potassium in this manner making them
unavailable for exchange.
O Ammonium fixation by clay minerals is generally greater in subsoil
than in topsoil due to the higher content of clays in subsoils.
O Ammonia gas (NH3) can be produced in the soil-plant system.
O Source can be from manures, fertilizers, decomposing plant
materials and even the foliage of living plants.
O This occurs when it comes in contact with hydroxyl:
NH4+ + OH- == H2O + NH3 (gas)
O This reaction is more pronounced at higher pH levels.
O Ammonium ions in the soil may be enzymatically oxidized by
certain soil bacteria, first into nitrites and then into nitrates.
O These bacteria are autotrophs - obtain their energy from oxidizing
the ammonium ions rather than organic matter.
O The first step - converting ammonium ions to nitrites - is done by
Nitrosomonas; the second by another group of autotrophs,
o|| cond|t|ons affect n|tr|f|cat|on
O Ammonia levels - ammonium must be available
O Aeration - the bacteria are aerobic and therefore good aeration and
good soil drainage promote nitrification
O Moisture - source of carbon - nitrifiers use CO2 and bicarbonate
ions as sources of carbon to synthesize their cellular components
O Temperature - ideally between 20 to 25°C
O xchangeable base-forming cations and pH
O Types of clays - allophane and smectites reduce rates of
-|trate Leach|ng Þrob|em
O Ammonium ions carry a positive charge BUT nitrate ions are
negatively charged (anions) AND therefore cannot be absorbed by
the negatively charged colloids.
O Therefore, nitrate ions remain in the soil solution and are readily
leached out with gravitational water.
O This leads to two problems:
4 Productivity losses
4 Degradation of the environment
aseous Losses by Den|tr|f|cat|on
O Nitrogen may also be lost to the atmosphere.
O This occurs when nitrate ions are converted to gaseous forms of
nitrogen by a series of widely occurring biochemical reduction
reactions termed denitrifi.ation.
O This is done by erotrophs (obtaining their energy and carbon from
the oxidation of organic compounds) and autotrophs (obtain their
energy from the oxidization of sulfide).
O Conditions for denitrification are:
4 Nitrate must be available.
4 #eadily decomposable organic compounds (or reduced sulfur
compounds) must be available to provide the bacteria with
4 Soil air should contain less than 10% oxygen, or less than 0.2
mg/L of O2 dissolved in the soil solution.
4 Temperature should be 2 and 50°C with optimum between 20
and 35°C. Very strong acidity (low pH) will inhibit
|o|og|ca| -|trogen |xat|on
O Biological nitrogen fixation involves certain microorganisms that
convert inert dinitrogen gas (N2) of the atmosphere to nitrogen-
containing organic compounds that become available to plants and
O This process is carried out by a few microorganisms including some
bacteria, actinomycetes and cyanobactiera (such as blue-green
O The key to biological nitrogen fixation is the enzyme nitrogenase.
O This catalyzes the reduction of dinitrogen gas to ammonia.
O The ammonia, in turn, is combined with organic acids to form
ammonia acids and ultimately proteins.
NH3 + organic acids --- amino acids --- proteins
our factors to rememberť
1. The reduction of N2 to NH3 by nitrogenase requires a great deal of
energy to break the bonds between the two atoms. Therefore, the
process is greatly enhanced by association with higher plants which
can supply this energy from photosynthesis.
2. Nitrogenase is destroyed by free O2, so organisms that fix nitrogen
must protect the enzyme from exposure to O2. This is often done
by the formation of leghemoglobin which bonds O2 in such a way as
to protect the nitrogenase while making the O2 available for
3. The reduction reaction is end-product inhibited - an accumulation
of ammonia will inhibit ongoing nitrogen fixation.
4. Nitrogen-fixing organisms have a relatively high requirement for
molybdenum, iron, phosphorous, and sulfur.
ymb|ot|c |xat|on w|th Legumes
O An important symbiotic relationship between legumes and specific
O This bacteria is known as #hizobium and Bradyrhizobium.
O #hizbium contains fast-growing, acid-producing bacteria while
Bradyrhobium are slow growers, not producing acid.
O These organisms infect the rot hairs of legume plants and the
cortical cells, ultimately inducing the formation of root nodes that
serve as the site of nitrogen fixation.
O The different strains of these bacteria will infect some plant types
and not others. Commercial strains are available to farmers to
inoculate their fields with.
O It is a mutually beneficial relationship: the plant provides the
bacteria with the necessary carbohydrates for energy and the
bacteria reciprocate by providing the plants with nitrogen-fixed
O The rate of biological fixation depends on soil and climatic
O Typical elves of nitrogen-fixation for different systems are:
4 Alfalfa - 150 to 250 kgN/ha/yr
4 Clover - 100 to 150 kgN/ha/yr
4 Soybean - 150 to 280 kgN/ha/yr
4 Non-legumes (adlers) - 50 to 150 kgN/ha/yr
O The nitrogen fixed in roots occurs in root nodules in used in three
1. It is used directly by the host plant.
2. Some of the fixed nitrogen may become available to non-fixing
plants growing in association with the nitrogen-fixing plants.
3. Some fixed nitrogen is immobilized by heterotrophic
microorganisms and eventual is incorporated into the soil
ymb|ot|c |xat|on w|th -onŴLegumes
O Nearly 200 species from more than a dozen genera of non-legumes
are known to develop nodules and to accommodate symbiotic
O #ates of nitrogen fixation are generally favorable to those of
O Certain tree-actinomycete complexes are of particular importance
because this allows these trees to colonize infertile areas. Then,
through the deposition of organic matter (lead litter) organic matter
builds up, providing the conditions for other vegetation.
O lobally, this may even exceed nitrogen-fixation associated with
O inally, certain free-living microorganisms present in soil and water
are able to fix nitrogen without relying on higher plants.
O This includes:
4 ixation by heterotrophs - such as Azotobacter in temperate
4 The amount of nitrogen fixed is highly dependent on pH
levels, soil nitrogen levels and sources of organic matter
4 Can fix between 5 and 20 kgN/ha/yr
4 ixed by autotrophs
Þract|ca| ,anagement of o|| -|trogen |n gr|cu|ture
O The goals of nitrogen control is threefold:
4 The maintenance of an adequate nitrogen supply in the soil
4 The regulation of the soluble forms of nitrogen to ensure that
enough is available for optimum growth of plants
4 The minimization of environmental damage due to leaching
O Issues to remember when considering the nitrogen cycle:
4 Incoming sources of N - nitrogen-fixed from both symbiotic
and non-symbiotic sources; commercial fertilizers; soil
organic matter and the atmosphere
4 Outgoing sources to consider - to the atmosphere through
volatilization; converted back to organic matter; plant
removal; leaching losses; erosion losses
4 Plant removal is the most important issue to consider on that
side of the ledger.
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