Nitrogen mineralization in a pecan ( Carya illinoensis K. Koch)–cotton ( Gossypium hirsutum L.) alley cropping system in the southern United States
Information on temporal and spatial patterns of N mineralization is critical in designing tree-crop mixed systems that could maximize N uptake while minimizing N loss. We quantified N mineralization rates in a pecan (Carya illinoensis K. Koch)–cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) alley cropping system in northwestern Florida with (non-barrier) and without tree-crop belowground interactions (barrier separating the root systems of pecan and cotton). Monthly rates of mineralization were estimated using buried bag incubations over a 15-month period. In addition, seasonal mineralization rates and cotton lint yield on soils supplied with two sources of N—inorganic fertilizer and organic poultry litter—were assessed. Results indicated that temporal variations in net NH4 and NO3 accumulation and mineralization rates were driven primarily by environmental factors and to a lesser degree by initial soil NH4 and NO3 levels. Mineralization varied by belowground interaction treatment during the initial growing season, when the non-barrier treatment exhibited a higher mineralization rate than the barrier treatment, likely due to reduced nutrient uptake by cotton in the non-barrier or a higher degree of immobilization in the barrier treatment. Mineralization during the second growing season was similar for both treatments. Source of N had no effects on N transformation in the soil. Lint yield reductions were observed in the non-barrier treatment during both years compared to the barrier treatment, likely due to interspecific competition for water. Yield differences between treatments in the second growing season were likely compounded by a diminishing pre-study fallow effect. Source of N was found to have a significant effect on cotton yield, with inorganic fertilizer resulting in 39% higher lint compared to poultry litter in the barrier treatment.