In silico evaluation of plant nitrification suppression effects on agroecosystem nitrogen loss

Melannie D. Hartman, Mark Burnham, William J. Parton, Adrien Finzi, Evan H. DeLucia, Wendy H. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nitrification regulates the potential for nitrogen (N) loss from ecosystems because it converts ammonium to nitrate, which is susceptible to leaching and gaseous emissions. Crops can suppress the microbes that perform nitrification by exuding nitrification-inhibiting compounds from their roots and taking up available ammonium. However, the effect of nitrification suppression on agroecosystem N losses remains poorly characterized, and a lack of temporal synchrony between nitrification, N losses, and nitrification suppression by plants could limit the effect of nitrification suppression. We used the DayCent-CABBI model to evaluate the effectiveness of the suppression of nitrification by sorghum to reduce N2O emissions and nitrate leaching in an energy sorghum/soybean rotation at the Energy Farm in Urbana-Champaign, IL. We simulated nitrification suppression at the measured levels (MeasNS) and at the maximum measured level applied to the entire growing season (MaxNS), and we also explored ways to better utilize nitrification suppression by altering the timing of urea–ammonium–nitrate fertilizer applications. Model experiments showed that most nitrification occurred immediately after fertilizer was applied, whereas nitrification suppression began to ramp up more than a month after planting. On an annual basis, MeasNS experiments showed a 1%–2% reduction in annual N2O emissions relative to no nitrification suppression (NoNS), and MaxNS experiments showed a 4%–9% reduction in annual N2O emissions relative to NoNS. Both nitrification suppression levels showed <1% reduction in nitrate leaching. Altering the timing of fertilizer applications to better synchronize nitrification suppression with high soil ammonium levels had mixed effects on annual N2O emissions and nitrate leaching and sometimes resulted in increased N losses. The timing of simulated N2O emissions shifted with the timing of fertilization, and N2O emissions from denitrification increased when N2O emissions from nitrification decreased. Increasing N retention during the non-growing season may be more effective than growing-season nitrification suppression for reducing annual N losses in the rainfed Midwest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4292
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • bioenergy sorghum
  • biological nitrification inhibition
  • ecosystem modeling
  • nitrate leaching
  • nitrification
  • nitrification suppression
  • nitrous oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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