Increased plant uptake of native soil nitrogen following fertilizer addition – not a priming effect?
Fertilizer inputs affect plant uptake of native soil nitrogen (N), yet the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. To increase mechanistic insight into this phenomenon, we evaluated the effect of fertilizer addition on mineralization (in the absence of plants) and plant uptake of native soil N. We synthesized 43 isotope tracer (15N) studies and estimated the effects of fertilizer addition using meta-analysis. We found that organic fertilizer tended to reduce native soil N mineralization (−99 kg ha−1 year−1; p = 0.09) while inorganic fertilizer tended to increase N priming (58 kg ha−1 year−1; p = 0.17). In contrast, both organic and inorganic fertilizers significantly increased plant uptake of native soil N (179 and 107 kg ha−1 year−1). Organic fertilizer had greater effect on plant uptake than on mineralization of native soil N (p < 0.001), but inorganic fertilizer had similar effects. Fertilizer effects on mineralization and plant uptake of native soil N were not influenced by study location (laboratory or field) and duration, soil texture, carbon and N content, and pH. Fertilizer addition variably affected native soil N mineralization but consistently increased plant uptake of native soil N. The positive effect of organic fertilizer on plant uptake of native soil N can not be explained by its negative effect on native soil N mineralization, suggesting that increased plant uptake of native soil N was caused mostly by plant-mediated mechanisms (e.g., increased root growth, rhizosphere N priming) rather than by soil microbe-mediated mechanisms.