Carbon and Nitrogen Mineralization in a Calcareous Soil Amended with Plant Residues and Sulfur



Carbon (C) and organic nitrogen (N) mineralization processes play key roles in supplying nutrient elements essential for plant growth. On the other hand, since the low organic matter content of agricultural soils of arid and semi-arid areas, microbial activities are often limited by carbon in these types of soils. Enhancement of microbial activities and populations could be achieved by returning plant residues to soil. Application of such acid-producing materials as sulfur may eliminate low uptake of some nutrients and slow decomposition of plant residue in calcareous soils, respectively in short and long-term in these soils. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the interactive effects of plant residue and sulfur additions on microbial activities including C and N mineralization as well as their mineralization rates in a calcareous soil from Iran. This study was performed using a factorial experiment arranged in a Completely Randomized Design (CRD) with three replications under laboratory incubation conditions. Treatments included were different plant residues (i.e., wheat, alfalfa, corn, rice, almond, walnut as well as grape) and sulfur levels (i.e. 0, 5 and 10 t ha-1). We evaluated effects of plant residue and sulfur applications on C and N mineralization to over 97 days of incubation period. Results show that plant residue application had a positive and significant effect on carbon and nitrogen mineralization and their mineralization rates, and led to C mineralization enhancement up to two fold. The effect of plant residue on N mineralization depends on the chemical quality and C/N ratio of the residue. The effect of sulfur additions on C mineralization and its mineralization rate was highly significant, as it caused an increase in microbial respiration during incubation time but its addition didn’t have significant effect on N mineralization and its mineralization rate. The interactive effects of plant residue and sulfur utilization on C and N mineralization primarily depend on chemical quality of plant residues and the level of applied sulfur. Briefly, the residues with more recalcitrant compounds such as lignin, showed less microbial activities.