TitleNitrogen Fertilization Effects on Productivity and Nitrogen Loss in Three Grass-Based Perennial Bioenergy Cropping Systems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsDuran, BEL, Duncan, DS, Oates, LG, Kucharik, CJ, Jackson, RD
JournalPLoS ONE
Paginatione0151919 -
Date Published2016/03/18

Nitrogen (N) fertilization can greatly improve plant productivity but needs to be carefully managed to avoid harmful environmental impacts. Nutrient management guidelines aimed at reducing harmful forms of N loss such as nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and nitrate (NO3-) leaching have been tailored for many cropping systems. The developing bioenergy industry is likely to make use of novel cropping systems, such as polycultures of perennial species, for which we have limited nutrient management experience. We studied how a switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) monoculture, a 5-species native grass mixture and an 18-species restored prairie responded to annual fertilizer applications of 56 kg N ha-1 in a field-scale agronomic trial in south-central Wisconsin over a 2-year period. We observed greater fertilizer-induced N2O emissions and sub-rooting zone NO3- concentrations in the switchgrass monoculture than in either polyculture. Fertilization increased aboveground net primary productivity in the polycultures, but not in the switchgrass monoculture. Switchgrass was generally more productive, while the two polycultures did not differ from each other in productivity or N loss. Our results highlight differences between polycultures and a switchgrass monoculture in responding to N fertilization.