U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Date of this Version



Published in Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 39: 257–268, 2008. DOI: 10.1080/00103620701759285


Aerobic incubation methods have been widely used to assess soil nitrogen (N) mineralization, but standardized protocols are lacking. A single silt loam soil (Catlin silt loam; fine-silty, mixed, superactive, mesic, Oxyaquic Arguidoll) was subjected to aerobic incubation at six USDA-ARS locations using a standardized protocol. Incubations were conducted at multiple temperatures, which were combined based on degree days (DD). Soil water was maintained at 60% waterfilled pore space (WFPS; constant) or allowed to fluctuate between 60 and 30% WFPS (cycle). Soil subsamples were removed periodically and extracted in 2 M potassium chloride (KCl); nitrate (NO3) and ammonium (NH4) concentrations in extracts were determined colorimetrically. For each location, the rate of soil organic-matter N (SOMN) mineralization was estimated by regressing soil inorganic N (Ni) concentration on DD, using a linear (zero-order) model. When all data were included, the mineralization rate from four datasets was not statistically different, with a rate equivalent to 0.5 mg N kg-1 soil day-1. Soil incubated at two locations exhibited significantly higher SOMN mineralization rates. To assess whether this may have been due to pre-incubation conditions, time-zero data were excluded and regression analysis was conducted again. Using this data subset, SOMN mineralization from five (of six) datasets was not significantly different. Fluctuating soil water reduced N-mineralization rate at two (of four) locations by an average of 50%; fluctuating soil water content also substantially increased variability. This composite dataset demonstrates that standardization of aerobic incubation methodology is possible.