Plant biomass, soil microbial community structure and nitrogen cycling under different organic amendment regimes; a 15N tracer-based approach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Sustainable agriculture requires nutrient management options that lead to a profitable crop yield with relatively low nitrogen (N) losses to the environment. We studied whether the addition of contrasting organic amendments together with inorganic fertilizer can promote both requirements simultaneously. In particular we studied how the chemical composition of organic amendments affects the biomass, activity and composition of the soil microbial community and subsequently carbon (C) and N mineralization, microbial N immobilization and plant growth and nutrient uptake. In a pot experiment, Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea, cvar. Cyrus) were grown on arable soil, mixed with 15N-labelled mineral fertilizer and different kinds of organic amendments (cattle manure solid fraction, maize silage, lucerne silage, wheat straw) differing in C:N ratio and lignin content. After 69 and 132 days, destructive sampling took place to assess the effects of the different treatments on soil microbial biomass (microscopic measurements), microbial community composition (phospholipid fatty acid profiles), soil microbial activity (14C-leucine incorporation), C and N mineralization, plant biomass and 15N retrieval in soil pools, microbial biomass and plant biomass. Addition of organic amendments increased soil microbial biomass, activity and fungal/bacterial ratio and created distinct microbial community compositions, whereby high C:N ratio organic amendments had stronger effects compared to low C:N ratio amendments. Structural equation modelling showed that higher values of soil microbial activity were associated with increased N mineralization rates, increased plant biomass and plant 15N uptake, while microbial 15N immobilization was associated with soil microbial community composition. The outcomes of this study highlight the importance of the chemical composition and the amount of the organic amendments for finding a balance between plant N uptake, microbial N immobilization and N retention in labile and stable soil pools through the effects on the composition and activity of the soil microbial community. The results provide insights that can be used in designing combined input (nutrient and organic) nutrient management strategies for a more sustainable agriculture.


External organisations
  • Wageningen University
  • University of Amsterdam
  • Utrecht University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • Immobilization, Mineral fertilizer, Mineralization, Organic amendments, Phospholipid fatty acids, Soil microbial community
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-260
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1
Publication categoryResearch