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Frontiers in Microbiology




Frontiers Research Foundation

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Agriculture is responsible for over half of the input of reactive nitrogen (N) to terrestrial systems; however improving N availability remains the primary management technique to increase crop yields in most regions. In the majority of agricultural soils, ammonium is rapidly converted to nitrate by nitrification, which increases the mobility of N through the soil matrix, strongly influencing N retention in the system. Decreasing nitrification through management is desirable to decrease N losses and increase N fertilizer use efficiency. We review the controlling factors on the rate and extent of nitrification in agricultural soils from temperate regions including substrate supply, environmental conditions, abundance and diversity of nitrifiers and plant and microbial interactions with nitrifiers. Approaches to the management of nitrification include those that control ammonium substrate availability and those that inhibit nitrifiers directly. Strategies for controlling ammonium substrate availability include timing of fertilization to coincide with rapid plant update, formulation of fertilizers for slow release or with inhibitors, keeping plant growing continuously to assimilate N, and intensify internal N cycling (immobilization). Another effective strategy is to inhibit nitrifiers directly with either synthetic or biological nitrification inhibitors. Commercial nitrification inhibitors are effective but their use is complicated by a changing climate and by organic management requirements. The interactions of the nitrifying organisms with plants or microbes producing biological nitrification inhibitors is a promising approach but just beginning to be critically examined. Climate smart agriculture will need to carefully consider optimized seasonal timing for these strategies to remain effective management tools.