Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 101, Issue 2, pp 271–283 | Cite as

Response of nitrogen use efficiency and soil nitrate dynamics to soil mulching in dryland maize (Zea mays L.) fields

  • Jianliang Liu
  • Ai Zhan
  • Huai Chen
  • Shasha Luo
  • Lingduo Bu
  • Xinping Chen
  • Shiqing Li
Original Article


Plastic film (FM) and gravel mulching (GM) have been used extensively to increase dryland agricultural productivity. Understanding mulching effects on nitrogen (N) use efficiency (NUE) and soil nitrogen dynamics is important for optimizing N management strategies. A 3-year field experiment was performed on the Loess Plateau of China to investigate the GM and FM effects on plant N accumulation, N translocation, N harvest index (NHI), NUE and soil NO3 -N dynamics in dryland maize fields. Compared with the control (CK, non-mulching), the mulching treatments markedly promoted plant N accumulation and especially maintained higher N uptake rates during the post-silking stage. At harvest, the total N accumulation was 12.8–41.2 and 33.2–55.8 % higher in the GM and FM treatments, respectively, than in the CK treatment. The NHIs of the mulching treatments were significantly higher by 9.6–32.4 % than the CK treatment, primarily due to greater N translocation and N accumulation post-silking. Overall, compared with the CK treatment, the GM and FM NUEs increased significantly by 17.1 and 28.3 % in 2010, 70.3 and 87.6 % in 2011, and 16.7 and 38.2 % in 2012, respectively. In the wet years of 2010 and 2011, the increased amount of soil NO3 -N in the 100–200 cm layer after harvest was 27.1–57.1 and 47.9–85.7 % lower in the GM and FM treatments, respectively, than in the CK treatment, indicating a lower NO3 -N leaching loss. These results suggest that mulching (especially FM) is an effective measure for increasing NUE and grain yield and decreasing N leaching loss in dry farmland.


Dryland maize Plastic film mulching Gravel mulching Nitrogen accumulation Nitrogen use efficiency Soil nitrate nitrogen 



This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31270553), the Special Fund for Agricultural Profession (201103003), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2009CB118604), the 100 Talents Program of The Chinese Academy of Sciences and the 1000 Talents Program of Sichuan Province.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jianliang Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ai Zhan
    • 2
  • Huai Chen
    • 1
  • Shasha Luo
    • 2
  • Lingduo Bu
    • 2
  • Xinping Chen
    • 3
  • Shiqing Li
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Mountain Ecological Restoration and Bioresource Utilization, Chengdu Institute of BiologyChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess PlateauNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  3. 3.Center for Resources, Environment and Food SecurityChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina

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