To examine how soil phosphorus status affects nitrogen fixation by the Casuarinaceae —Frankia symbiosis,Casuarina equisetifolia and two species ofAllocasuarina (A. torulosa andA. littoralis) inoculated or fertilized with KNO3 were grown in pots in an acid soil at 4 soil phosphate levels. InoculatedC. equisetifolia nodulated well by 12 weeks after planting and the numbers and weight of nodules increased markedly with phosphorus addition. Growth ofC. equisetifolia dependent on symbiotically fixed nitrogen was more sensitive to low levels of phosphorus (30 mg kg−1 soil) than was growth of seedings supplied with combined nitrogen; at higher levels of phosphorus, the growth response curves were similar for both nitrogen fertilized and inoculated plants. The interaction between phosphorus and nitrogen treatments (inoculated and nitrogen fertilized) demonstrated that there was a greater requirement of phosphorus for symbiotic nitrogen fixation than for plant growth when soil phosphorus was low.
WithAllocasuarina species, large plant to plant variation in nodulation occurred both within pots and between replicates. This result suggests genetic variation in nodulation withinAllocasuarina species. Nodulation ofAllocasuarina species did not start until 16 weeks after planting and no growth response due toFrankia inoculation was obtained at the time of harvest. Addition of nitrogen starter is suggested to boost plant growth before the establishment of the symbiosis. Growth ofAllocasuarina species fertilized with nitrogen responded to increasing levels of phosphorus up to 90 mg P/kg soil after which it declined by 69% forA. littoralis. The decrease in shoot weight ofA. littoralis, A. torulosa, C. equisetifolia andC. cunninghamiana at high phosphorus was confirmed in a sand culture experiment, and may be atributable to phosphorus toxicity.