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Effects of fertilizer and spatial heterogeneity in soil pH on microbial biomass indices in a long-term field trial of organic agriculture.

Heinze, S., Raupp, J., Rainer Georg Joergensen (2009).

Plant and Soil, DOI 10.1007/s11104-009-0102-2


In the Darmstadt long-term fertilization trial, the application of composted cattle farmyard manure without (CM) and with (CMBD) biodynamic preparations was compared to mineral fertilization with straw return (MIN). The present study was conducted to investigate the effects of spatial variability, especially of soil pH in these three treatments, on soil organic matter and soil microbial biomass (C, N, P, S), activity (basal CO2 production and O2 consumption), and fungal colonization (ergosterol). Soil pH was significantly lower in the MIN treatments than in the organic fertilizer treatments. In the MIN treatments, the contents of soil organic C and total N were also significantly lower (13% and 16%, respectively) than those of the organic fertilizer treatments. In addition, the total S content increased significantly in the order MIN < CM < CMBD. The microbial biomass C content was significantly lower (9%) in the MIN treatments than in the organic fertilizer treatments. Microbial biomass N and biomass P followed microbial biomass C, with a mean C/N ratio of 7.9 and a mean C/P ratio of 23. Neither the microbial biomass C to soil organic C ratio, the metabolic quotient qCO2, nor the respiratory quotient (mol CO2/mol O2) revealed any clear differences between the MIN and organic fertilizer treatments. The mean microbial biomass S content was 50% and the mean ergosterol content was 40% higher in the MIN treatments compared to the organic fertilizer treatments. The increased presence of saprotrophic fungi in the MIN treatments was indicated by significantly increased ratios of ergosterol-to-microbial biomass C and the microbial biomass C/S ratio. Our results showed that complex interactions between the effects of fertilizer treatments and natural heterogeneity of soil pH existed for the majority of microbial biomass and activity indices.