Plant and Soil

, Volume 434, Issue 1–2, pp 167–184 | Cite as

Quantification of the contribution of nitrogen fertilization and crop harvesting to soil acidification in a wheat-maize double cropping system

  • Tianxiang Hao
  • Qichao Zhu
  • Mufan Zeng
  • Jianbo Shen
  • Xiaojun Shi
  • Xuejun LiuEmail author
  • Fusuo Zhang
  • Wim de Vries
Regular Article



Over fertilization with nitrogen (N) is considered the main driver of agricultural soil acidification in China. However, the contribution of this driver compared to other causes of soil acidification on intensive croplands has seldom been quantified under field conditions.


We measured the fate of major nutrients, and calculated the related H+ production, based on the difference between inputs and leaching losses of those nutrients for a wheat-maize rotation system on a moderate acid silty clay loam soil in a two-year field experiment.


Topsoil pH decreased 0.3 units in the plots with conventional (current farmer practice) high N fertilization after two years, with a proton production of 13.1 keq H+ ha−1 yr.−1. No apparent changes in topsoil pH were observed in the plots without N application, in spite of a proton production of 4.7 keq H+ ha−1 yr.−1. Crop uptake was the primary driver of H+ production, followed by N transformation processes and HCO3 leaching in both plots.


Nitrogen fertilization had a relative small direct impact on soil acidification due to a very limited nitrate leaching, induced by large N losses to air by denitrification in this specific moderately acid soil, whereas elevated base cation uptake by crops induced by N fertilization indirectly had a relative large impact.


Soil acidification Agriculture N fertilization Wheat maize Soil pH Acid neutralizing capacity 



This work was financially supported by the State Key Basic Research Programme (2017YFD0200101), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41425007 and 31421092), China Ten-thousand Talent Programs (Liu X.J.), the Sino-UK Nitrogen Project (CINAg) and Sino-Netherlands cooperative project (grant 13CDP009).

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions of MOEChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.College of Resources and EnvironmentSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  3. 3.Academy of Agricultural SciencesSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  4. 4.Environmental Systems Analysis GroupWageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Environmental Research (Alterra)Wageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands

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