Seasonal dynamics of root uptake and spring remobilisation of nitrogen in field grown orange trees
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To be economically and environmentally sound, the nitrogen (N) supply in orchards needs to be finely tuned according to crop needs. This requires knowledge of the amount and the dynamics of N uptake by roots and of its allocation. This paper reports two experiments, carried out on the same set of trees, in order to: 1) study the uptake dynamics of N derived from fertiliser (Ndff) and its allocation to tree organs and, 2) quantify its N remobilization in spring from storage organs to new growth. The study was carried out using field-grown adult orange trees (cv. Tarocco nucellare grafted on Troyer Citrange), one of the most important fruit tree crops in the Mediterranean area. Nitrogen was supplied as ammonium nitrate in 10 applications with equal doses evenly distributed from March to November 2009. Four groups of 5 trees each received 15N-enriched N starting from March, July, September, and November, respectively, while they received unlabelled N in the remaining periods. The results show that trees absorbed roughly 30% of the fertiliser N. Fertiliser-N use efficiency (NUE) was generally low in spite of the fact that readily available N sources were regularly supplied and the trees were irrigated; the later the fertiliser N was supplied, the lower was the NUE. Uptake rate was rather constant from April to November, but relatively less N was partitioned to fruits when the fertiliser was supplied later in the season. Remobilization of N from one-year-old leaves provided more than 60% of the N required by shoots in spring. By the end of April, most of the N had already been transferred from storage to growing organs. We estimated that, during the vegetative season, trees absorbed 94 kg N ha−1 from the soil and half of this amount derived from fertiliser. Spring remobilisation of winter stored N contributed for additional 40 kg N ha−1 to the N needs. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.