Changes in nitrogen budget and potential risk to the environment over 20 years (1990-2010) in the agroecosystems of the Haihe Basin, China

Mengmeng Zheng , Hua Zheng , Yingxia Wu , Yi Xiao , Yihua Du , Weihua Xu , Fei Lu , Xiaoke Wang , Zhiyun Ouyang


Received March 18, 2014,Revised June 13, 2014, Accepted , Available online February 10, 2015

Volume 27,2015,Pages 195-202

The nitrogen balance can serve as an indicator of the risk to the environment of nitrogen loss from agricultural land. To investigate the temporal and spatial changes in agricultural nitrogen application and its potential threat to the environment of the Haihe Basin in China, we used a database of county-level agricultural statistics to calculate agricultural nitrogen input, output, surplus intensity, and use efficiency. Chemical fertilizer nitrogen input increased by 51.7% from 1990 to 2000 and by 37.2% from 2000 to 2010, concomitant with increasing crop yields. Simultaneously, the nitrogen surplus intensity increased by 53.5% from 1990 to 2000 and by 16.5% from 2000 to 2010, presenting a continuously increased environmental risk. Nitrogen use efficiency decreased from 0.46 in 1990 to 0.42 in 2000 and remained constant at 0.42 in 2010, partly due to fertilizer composition and type improvement. This level indicates that more than half of nitrogen inputs are lost in agroecosystems. Our results suggest that although the improvement in fertilizer composition and types has partially offset the decrease in nitrogen use efficiency, the environmental risk has still increased gradually over the past 20 years, along with the increase in crop yields and nitrogen application. It is important to achieve a better nitrogen balance through more effective management to significantly reduce the environmental risk, decrease nitrogen surplus intensity, and increase nitrogen use efficiency without sacrificing crop yields.

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