Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are needed to enhance maize (Zea mays
L.) production. Maize plays a major role in the livestock industry, biofuels, and human nutrition. Globally, less than one-half of applied N is recovered by maize. Although the application of N fertilizer can improve maize yield, excess N application due to low knowledge of the mechanisms of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) poses serious threats to environmental sustainability. Increased environmental consciousness and an ever-increasing human population necessitate improved N utilization strategies in maize production. Enhanced understanding of the relationship between maize growth and productivity and the dynamics of maize N recovery are of major significance. A better understanding of the metabolic and genetic control of N acquisition and remobilization during vegetative and reproductive phases are important to improve maize productivity and to avoid excessive use of N fertilizers. Synchronizing the N supply with maize N demand throughout the growing season is key to improving NUE and reducing N loss to the environment. This review examines the mechanisms of N use in maize to provide a basis for driving innovations to improve NUE and reduce risks of negative environmental impacts.
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