Plant and Soil

, Volume 429, Issue 1–2, pp 253–269 | Cite as

“Preferential” ammonium uptake by sugarcane does not increase the 15N recovery of fertilizer sources

  • Beatriz Nastaro BoschieroEmail author
  • Eduardo Mariano
  • Paulo Cesar Ocheuze Trivelin
Regular Article



As ammonium (NH4+) has been reported as the “preferred” mineral N source for sugarcane (Saccharum spp.), the predominant supply of NH4+ has been hypothesized as a means of increasing the 15N recovery and crop yield. We aimed to evaluate the 15N recovery by sugarcane as affected by 15N-NH4+ and 15N-NO3 addition.


Under field conditions, 15N-labeled ammonium nitrate [labeling as 15NH4NO3 (15N-NH4+) and NH415NO3 (15N-NO3)] and urea were surface-applied at a rate of 100 kg N ha−1. Under controlled conditions, sugarcane was grown in hydroponic medium (containing unlabeled N) until the maximum N demand period. Subsequently, plants received 15N-NH4+ or 15N-NO3 (as ammonium nitrate). Plants were then sampled at 1, 3, 7, and 15 d after fertilization (DAF) to estimate 15N recovery.


Under field conditions, the 15N recovery for urea was lower than that for ammonium nitrate, partly explained by ammonia volatilization, but there was no difference in N use efficiency between the two fertilizer N sources, as well as between 15N-NH4+ and 15N-NO3 supply. Under controlled conditions, however, 15N-NH4+ resulted in higher 15N recovery than 15N-NO3 until 7 DAF. Nevertheless, as 15N-NH4+ became depleted in the nutrient solution, 15N-NO3 was taken up more intensely by the crop. At 15 DAF, highest 15N recovery was detected in the roots and whole plant under 15N-NO3 supply.


Although uptake of NH4+ is faster than NO3, the so-called “preference” for NH4+ by the crop did not necessarily translate into higher 15N recovery. Therefore, we suggest that the term “preference” should be used with caution to avoid misinterpretation.


Saccharum spp. Biofuels Plant preference Nitrate Uptake efficiency Nitrogen use efficiency 



ammonium nitrate labeled in 15NH4+


ammonium nitrate labeled in 15NO3


cation exchange capacity


days after fertilization




N use efficiency


Agronomic efficiency


N derived from fertilizer



The first author (BNB) was supported by scholarship from the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo [FAPESP; grant #2013/17278-1]. The experiment under field conditions was performed in a sugarcane field belonging to the São José da Estiva Sugarcane Mill. We thank editor and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, which helped us to improve the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11104_2018_3672_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (302 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 301 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beatriz Nastaro Boschiero
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eduardo Mariano
    • 1
  • Paulo Cesar Ocheuze Trivelin
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Stable Isotopes, Center for Nuclear Energy in AgricultureUniversity of São PauloPiracicabaBrazil

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