Can the presence of plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.) improve nitrogen cycling of dairy grassland systems on peat soils?
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Reactive nitrogen (N) losses, and in particular nitrous oxide losses, from dairy grasslands on peat soils are generally high as a result of relative high soil organic matter contents, potential N mineralisation rates and shallow groundwater levels. Effects of the inclusion of the temperate forage species plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.) (PL), which produces secondary compounds with biological nitrification inhibition capacity, on the fate of soil mineral N were studied in a combined mesocosm and field experiment. The experiments comprised four treatments differing in intentional herbage share of plantain versus perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) (100%PL, 66%PL, 33%PL and 0%PL). Potential nitrification in the mesocosm experiment was significantly lower at 100%PL versus 0%PL (p = 0.018), but soil nitrate concentrations were not. Nitrous oxide fluxes reduced by 39% (p = 0.021) in the presence of plantain in the field experiment, without an obvious link to the quantity of plantain. N use efficiency of plantain tended to increase with the quantity of plantain in the sward in the mesocosm experiment (p = 0.098), but not in the field experiment. Our results suggest that the presence of plantain can affect the fate of soil mineral N of dairy grasslands on peat soils.