Spring barley performance benefits from simultaneous shallow straw incorporation and top dressing as revealed by rhizotrons with resealable sampling ports

Rüdiger Reichel, Catherine Wambui Kamau, Amit Kumar, Zhijie Li, Viviane Radl, Vicky M. Temperton, Michael Schloter, Nicolas Brüggemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Plant residues with larger carbon (C) to nitrogen (N) ratios can stimulate microbial growth and thereby protect soil nutrients from leaching. In poorly fertilized soil, excessive immobilization may limit nutrient availability and thus plant growth. Little is known about the impact of a shallow straw incorporation on soil microbial regulation of top-dressing fertilizer nutrients and spring crop establishment. We aimed to evaluate if wheat straw in combination with mineral fertilizer has more positive effects on plant performance than mineral fertilization alone and if this relates to changes of the extractable C:N:P ratio and microbial activity close to the roots. In order to conduct small-scale sampling with minimal disturbance during growth of spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), we developed rhizotrons with resealable ports. Rhizotrons were filled with loamy-sandy soil and fertilized with an equivalent of 150 kg N and 80 kg P ha−1. Half of the rhizotrons received the top dressing together with 4500 kg wheat straw-C ha−1. Throughout a 90-day greenhouse experiment, we analyzed soil C:N:P dynamics, and carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emission, together with microbial biomass, selected bacterial genes (abundance), and transcripts (activity) in bulk and root-affected soil at multiple times. We focused on nitrifiers and denitrifiers and linked our data to barley growth. Interactions between straw and roots caused shifts towards larger C:P and C:N ratios in root-affected soil. These shifts were associated with increased 16S rRNA transcripts and denitrifier activities. Straw increased microbial biomass by 124% in the topsoil and at the same time increased root biomass by 125% and number of tillers by 80%. We concluded that microbial activation at the root-straw interface may positively feed back on soil nutrient regulation and plant performance. Further research has to evaluate if plant roots actively prime mining of previously immobilized nutrients in the straw detritusphere or if effects of pathogen suppression and growth promotion are dominating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-388
Number of pages14
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Barley
  • Denitrification
  • N immobilization
  • Nitrification
  • Nutrient stoichiometry
  • Rhizotron
  • Rhizotron sampling
  • Wheat straw

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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