Plant and Soil

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 29–37 | Cite as

Plant nutrient efficiency: A comparison of definitions and suggested improvement

  • C. J. P. Gourley
  • D. L. Allan
  • M. P. Russelle
Research Article


Selection of plant cultivars tolerant of low nutrient supply may increase productivity on low fertility soils and reduce fertilizer requirements. Considerable effort has been directed towards identifying ‘nutrient efficient’ species and germplasms, but the many different definitions for efficiency make the use of the term ambiguous. The concept of nutrient efficiency was evaluated using data from a study of differences in germplasm response to phosphorus (P) availability in white clover (Trifolium repens L.) and alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) grown in a sand-alumina culture. Application of various criteria identified in the literature as measures of nutrient efficiency did not clarify differences between purportedly P efficient and inefficient germplasms. Germplasms differed in maximum shoot and total dry mass and in solution P concentration required to achieve 80% maximum yield, but not in tissue P concentration, internal P utilization, or P uptake per unit of fine root dry mass. Differences may have resulted from factors other than efficient use of available P. To reduce the confounding effects that other factors have on nutrient efficiency, we propose that equivalent yields of germplasms be demonstrated where nutrients are not limiting. Mechanisms that enable enhanced nutrient efficiency can be identified less ambiguously using this improved approach.

Key words

alfalfa Medicago sativa nutrient efficiency nutrient utilization phosphorus efficiency root morphology sand-alumina Trifolium repens white clover 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. J. P. Gourley
    • 1
  • D. L. Allan
    • 2
  • M. P. Russelle
    • 3
  1. 1.Victorian Department of AgricultureEllinbank Dairy Research InstituteWarragul SouthAustralia
  2. 2.Soil Science DepartmentUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  3. 3.USDA-Agriculture Research ServiceUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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