, Volume 205, Issue 1, pp 57-66

Potential to improve transfer of N in intercropped systems by optimising host-endophyte combinations

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Possibilities for improving N transfer from N2-fixing plants to non-N2-fixing plants by mycorrhiza have been investigated. Initially, the genetic variability with respect to N uptake was assessed by screening five varieties of chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), four of peas (Pisum sativum L.) and three of red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) in combination with eight isolates of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The most promising plant - fungi combinations identified through the cultivar screening were used to optimise conditions for N transfer between intercropped N2-fixing plants (peas and clover) and non-N2-fixing chicory. In the first experiment, the recovery of fixed legume N was investigated using three cultivars, of chicory intercropped with pea variety, and inoculated with one of four mycorrhizal isolates. Roots of the N2-fixing pea and the non-N2-fixing chicory were separated by a root-free soil layer in a three-compartment container. A section of the legume roots was forced to grow into a separate compartment which received four split applications of 15N. The percentage of N in the chicory derived from transfer ranged between 3% and 50%. In a second experiment one chicory variety was intercropped with one red clover variety and inoculated with four mycorrhizal isolates respecetively. A harvest regime was chosen in which the shoots were harvested from intercropped plants at 3,4.5 and 6 months of age. At three months the percentage of N in the chicory derived from transfer ranged between 15% and 18% and at a plant age of 4.5 months from 46 to 77%. At six months the percentage of N in the chicory roots derived from transfer of legume N ranged from 20 to 34% and varied with fungal isolate. Our results show that there is potential for improving N transfer in intercropped plant systems through the methodological selection of suitable plant and mycorrhizal partners.