•High N rates increase the maize root exudation and total abundance of soil bacteria.•All taxa mapped to genes associated with the N cycle (e.g., nifD, nosZ) significantly increased with N rate.•The pmoA-amoA group was the most responsive, increasing approx. 30-fold at the highest N rate.•The decline in NUE at high N rates cannot be solely attributed to reductions in plant root biomass.•The declining NUE is best explained by an increase in N immobilization by soil bacteria.
Applied Soil Ecology – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2016
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