Comparative response of bread and durum wheat cultivars to nitrogen fertilizer in a rainfed Mediterranean environment: soil nitrate and N uptake and efficiency

Research paper by Rafael J. López-Bellido, Juan E. Castillo, Luis López-Bellido

Indexed on: 14 Aug '07Published on: 14 Aug '07Published in: Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems


A 3-year multi-site study was carried out on rainfed Vertisols under Mediterranean conditions in southern Europe to determine the influence of the N fertilizer rate on soil nitrates, N uptake and N use efficiency in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. var. Durum Desf.) in rotation with sunflower (Heliathus annuus L.). Nitrogen fertilizer rates were 0, 100, 150 and 200 kg N ha−1 applied in equal proportions at sowing, tillering and stem elongation. The experiment was designed as a randomized complete block with a split plot arrangement and four replications. Nitrogen harvest index (NHI), N uptake/grain yield (NUp/GY), N use efficiency (NUE), N utilization efficiency (NUtE), N uptake efficiency (NUpE) and N apparent recovery fraction (NRF) were calculated. Differences were observed in N use efficiency between the two modern bread wheat and durum wheat cultivars studied. In comparison to durum, bread wheat displayed greater N accumulation capacity and a more efficient use of N for grain production. While under N-limiting conditions, the behavior was similar for both wheat types. No difference was noted between wheat types with regard to changes in soil residual \( {\text{NO}}^{ - }_{{\text{3}}} - {\text{N}} \) levels over the study period at the various sites. The 100-kg ha−1 N fertilizer rate kept soil nitrates stable at a moderate level in plots where both wheat types were sown.