Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://hdl.handle.net/2440/51615
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Type: Journal article
Title: Measurement of asymbiotic N₂ fixation in Australian agriculture
Other Titles: Measurement of asymbiotic N(2) fixation in Australian agriculture
Author: Unkovich, M.
Baldock, J.
Citation: Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 2008; 40(12):2915-2921
Publisher: Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd
Issue Date: 2008
ISSN: 0038-0717
1879-3428
Statement of
Responsibility: 
Murray Unkovich, Jeff Baldock
Abstract: A wide range of bacteria capable of nitrogen fixation (free-living and associative) can be found in all agricultural soils across Australia, however measurement of their effectiveness in N2 fixation has proved to be problematic because rates are low compared to symbiotic systems and quantitative methodologies barely adequate. It is generally believed that associative N2 fixation rates may be greater than free-living N2 fixation rates in ecosystems where grasses (including cereals) dominate, although this has not been unequivocally proven. Conditions promoting asymbiotic N2 fixation are reduced availability of oxygen, high temperature and soil water, and large amounts of microbially available C in the soil. The most direct measure of N2 fixation, incorporation of 15N2, has rarely been used in undisturbed systems, and we can find no examples of its field application in Australia. Nitrogen balance calculations, based on long-term changes in total soil N of systems and crop N removal, have been used to infer asymbiotic N2 fixation, but do not measure it directly. Such N balance studies can thus only give an indication of potential asymbiotic N2 fixation over long periods of time, but cannot confirm it. There are no robust N balances published for Australian ecosystems. The acetylene reduction assay for nitrogenase activity has been used in Australia to study responses of both free-living and associative N2 fixation systems to regulating factors. These studies have highlighted the importance of C supply, high soil water content and temperature in increasing asymbiotic N2 fixation in soils. However significant methodological limitations do not allow field scale quantification using this assay. On balance we would concur with the authors of several earlier global reviews of this topic and conclude that (in Australia) contributions of nitrogen to crop growth from asymbiotic N2 fixation are likely to be <10 kg N ha-1 y-1 and generally not of agronomic significance under low rainfall conditions. In tropical environments where higher rainfall and temperatures coincide, rates are likely to be greater if soil mineral N is low and carbon substrates are available for N2 fixing microorganisms. If asymbiotic N2 fixation is to be encouraged or profitably managed, there is a need for more reliable field measurement and a combination of methodologies including 15N might provide more definitive quantitative indications.
Keywords: Free-living bacteria
Associative N fixation
Acetylene reduction
¹⁵N
Diazotrophs
Rights: Crown Copyright © 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2008.08.021
Appears in Collections:Aurora harvest 5
Earth and Environmental Sciences publications

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