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Nitrogen in interstitial waters in the Sahel : natural baseline, pollutant or resource?

Deans, J.D.; Edmunds, W.M.; Lindley, D.K.; Gaye, C.B.; Dreyfus, B.; Nizinski, J.J.; Neyra, M.; Ingleby, K.; Munro, R.C.. 2005 Nitrogen in interstitial waters in the Sahel : natural baseline, pollutant or resource? Plant and Soil, 271 (1-2). 47-62. 10.1007/s11104-004-1994-5

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Abstract/Summary

Nitrate in the unsaturated zone between the soil surface and the water table was studied in agroforestry Parklands in north western Senegal by examination of samples obtained by hand auger. Depending on location, water tables existed at depths between 10 and 35m below ground. Previous studies of groundwater in this region had found that large concentrations of nitrate were unconnected with anthropogenic activity. The objective of this study was to determine whether nitrogen fixing vegetation had a role in groundwater nitrate accumulation and whether roots of trees were located deeply enough to access the nitrate. Accordingly, sample profiles were augered close to stems of nitrogen fixing trees, non-nitrogen fixing trees and also in adjacent areas that were unaffected by tree presence. These adjacent areas were typically open pasture or cultivated fields. Tree fine roots were quantified in the samples and examined for the presence of mycorrhizas. Similarly, sand/soil samples were examined and tested for the presence of nitrogen fixing rhizobia that were capable of forming functional nodules on appropriate host plants. Concentrations of nitrate were greatest in soils beneath nitrogen fixing trees and nitrate was more plentiful in profiles augered beneath nitrogen fixing crops than it was elsewhere suggesting that N-fixation was the source of the nitrate. The concentrrations of nitrate that were found in the unsaturated zone were greatly in excess of the WHO recommended limit for nitrate in drinking water. High NO3-N/Cl ratios confirm insitu production of nitrate, and indicate that this is a natural baseline occurrence related to N-fixation. The nitrate is moving down the profile and impacts the groundwater unless it can be intercepted by plant roots. NO3-N amounts in solution in the soil profile varied between 75 and 1000kg ha–1 beneath trees and between 120 and 400kg ha–1 in areas outwith tree crowns. Although these quantities of N occupy the lower end of the range of N values obtained in north American deserts, they comprise a considerable dryland resource where amounts of organic fertilizer are limited and where cost prohibits the use of commercial fertilizers. Roots of both nitrogen fixing and non-nitrogen fixing trees were deep enough to access the nitrate but the small amounts of available water at intermediate depths suggest that large scale uptake of nitrate will only be possible in the wetter zones located close to the water table. Shallow roots tended to be more heavily colonized by mycorrhizas than deeper roots but mycorrhizas were recovered from roots located 22m below ground. Tree roots and rhizobia had similar patterns of distribution. They were commonest close to the soil surface, less frequent at intermediate depths and tended to increase in frequency close to the water table.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1007/s11104-004-1994-5
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biogeochemistry
BGS Programmes > Groundwater Management
CEH Sections: _ Biosystems Management
ISSN: 0032-079X
Additional Keywords: Acacia tortilis, Faidherbia albida, fine roots, microsymbionts, nitrate, water table, GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Groundwater quality
Date made live: 02 Jul 2012 16:06
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/18590

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