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Agronomy Journal Abstract -

Estimation of Nitrogen Fixation by Isotope Dilution in Field and Greenhouse Experiments1


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 74 No. 4, p. 625-628
    Received: July 13, 1981

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  1. F. E. Broadbent,
  2. T. Nakashima and
  3. Grace Y. Chang2



Isotope dilution methodology offers the advantage of an integrative technique for measuring N2 fixation in the field, but may have limitations in grass-legume mixtures because of the possibility of transfer of fixed N from legume to grass. A study was conducted in the greenhouse and in the field utilizing two soils, Hanford sandy loam and Yolo silt loam (Typic Xerorthents) in which the organic matter was labeled by previous application of either 15N-depleted or 15N-enriched compounds. Contributions of atmospheric N2 to total plant N were calculated from the isotopic composition of plant tissue, using the composition of the non-legume as a reference value.

Ladino clover (Trifolium repens L.) and Wimmera ryegrass (Lolium rigidum L.) were grown alone and in mixture for purposes of comparison. In the greenhouse estimation of N2 fixation by the isotope and difference methods were in good agreement. There was essentially no transfer of fixed N2 from the clover to the ryegrass in any of the pot experiments. In the field experiment, clover obtained 85 to 100% of its N from the fixation process. In the clover-ryegrass mixture, % total N and % 15N excess comparisons both indicated substantial transfer of N from clover to ryegrass after the stand had been established after about 6 months. Up to 79% of the N in ryegrass was calculated to be derived from such transfer. It is concluded that the isotope dilution method gives estimates of N2 fixation at least as good as those obtained by yield-dependent methods such as the difference method, but it is not suitable for grass-legume mixtures.

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