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Nitrification during slash and burn agriculture jhum in northeastern india



Nitrification during slash and burn agriculture jhum in northeastern india



Acta Oecologica Oecologia Plantarum 7(3): 307-319



The tribal farmers of north-eastern hill region of India practice shifting agriculture (locally referred to as "Jhum") which involves slash and burn of developing communities followed by mixed cropping for a year or two. The land is fallowed for natural regeneration so as to improve soil fertility until it is next cultivated. Rate of nitrification was measured at regular intervals during crop cultivation after 4, 6 and 10 year Jhum cultivation cycles and also in 1, 3 and 20 year old fallow fields developed after cropping. Nitrification was enhanced after slashing the vegetation but decreased soon after the burn. Nitrification potential declined with the increasing length of the cultivation cycle. In case of the fallow fields, nitrification was more in the younger fields in comparison with the older ones. In both Jhum sites and fallow fields, soil samples taken during the dry summer months and towards the end of the wet season yielded higher levels of nitrate-nitrogen than the samples taken at other times. Temporal variation in nitrification, however, was not associated with soil properties like nitrate, ammonium, available phosphorus, organic carbon and pH. Added ammonium in the form of ammonium sulphate was rapidly nitrified by all soils irrespective of the length of cultivation cycle or age of the fallow field. On the other hand, nitrification was slowed down in the initial stages when soils were mixed with leaf material, but there was a sharp increase after 24 days of incubation. It appears that nitrifying activity is more critically associated with the heterotrophic potential influencing the availability of ammonium ions to nitrifiers rather than any allelopathic interactions in the prevailing ecological conditions. Ecological significance of nitrification has been discussed in relation to the length of cultivation cycle in shifting agriculture.

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