Nutrient management effects on soil quality, microbial community composition, and nitrogen cycling in tall fescue forage grass production systems

Project Lead: Katarina Neufeld
Project Type: Thesis Project, MSc Soil Science
Supervisors: Dr. Sean Smukler & Dr. Sue Grayston

Project Partners: Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

Abstract: In the Fraser Valley of southwest BC, dairy production is an important industry but large numbers of dairy cows present challenges for manure management. Dairy manure is a valuable source of plant nutrients, yet surplus application may lead to N loss through NO₃- leaching and N₂O emissions. Removing solids from whole dairy manure reduces the organic N and C contents, potentially improving crop N uptake, but reducing soil microbial activity compared to whole manure. The objective of this study was to quantify long term effects of contrasting nutrient applications to perennial grass on soil microbial activity and community structure, and to test relationships with soil properties and rates of N transformation. Microbial community structure and activity (biomass, phospholipid fatty acid biomarkers, hydrolyzing enzyme activities) and N dynamics (net mineralization and nitrification, lysimeter leachate NO₃-, N₂O emissions) were measured in 2013 and 2014 on a stand of tall fescue (Fetusca arundinacea Schreb.) established in 2002 at Agassiz, BC, on soils receiving: whole dairy slurry manure, separated liquid fraction, NH₄NO₃ fertilizer, or alternating manure-fertilizer (all applied at 400 kg N/ha/yr equivalent) four times per year. In the autumn of 2013, the nitirifcation inhibitor, Nitrapyrin®, was applied to sub-plots of each treatment to assess its potential to minimize N losses from nutrient amendments. Soil in plots receiving whole or liquid manure had higher microbial biomass than plots receiving commercial fertilizer or unamended plots, and higher activity of cellulose-degrading enzymes than plots receiving no amendment. Both microbial biomass and cellobiosidase activity (cellulose-degrading enzyme) were positively correlated with total soil C, N, and P. Fungal:bacterial ratios were higher in control and whole manure than fertilizer and liquid treatments. Emissions of N₂O and concentrations of NO₃- in leachate were consistently positively correlated with abundance of bacterial biomarkers, but not total microbial biomass. N mineralization and nitrification were not correlated with any microbial group, but were positively correlated with NO₃- in leachate. The nitrification inhibitor Nitrapyrin® had no significant impact on soil inorganic N concentrations, N mineralization or nitrification, or N₂O emissions, however it increased soil microbial biomass and changed community structure and surprisingly increased NO₃- leachate.

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