Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 133–145 | Cite as

Seasonal pattern of nitrogen mineralization and soil moisture beneath Faidherbia albida (synAcacia albida) in central malawi

  • C. Rhoades


On fertile alluvial soils on the lakeshore plain of Malawi, maize (Zea mays L.) yields beneath canopies of large Faidherbia albida (synAcacia albida) trees greatly exceed those found beyound tree canopies, yet there is little difference in soil nutrients or organic matter. To investigate the possibility that soil nutrient dynamics contribute to increased maize yields, this study focused on the impact of Faidherbia albida on nitrogen mineralization and soil moisture from the time of crop planting until harvest. Both large and small trees were studied to consider whether tree effects change as trees mature.

During the first month of the rainy season, a seven-fold difference in net N mineralization was recorded beneath large tree canopies compared to rates measured in open sites. The initial pulse beneath the trees was 60 μg N g−1 in the top 15 cm of soil. During the rest of the cropping cycle, N availability was 1.5 to 3 times higher beneath tree canopies than in open sites. The total production of N for the 4-month study period was 112 μg N g−1 below tree canopies compared to 42 μg N g−1 beyond the canopies. Soil moisture in the 0–15 cm soil layer was higher under the influence of the tree canopies. The canopy versus open site difference grew from 4% at the beginning of the season to 50% at the end of the cropping season.

Both N mineralization and soil moisture were decreased below young trees. Hence, the impact of F. albida on these soil properties changes with tree age and size. While maize yields were not depressed beneath young F. albida, it is important to realize that the full benefits of this traditional agroforestry system may require decades to develop.

Key words

Faidherbia albida parcland soil nitrogen mineralization soil moisture 


  1. Belsky AJ, Amundson RG, Duxbury JM, Riha SJ and Mwonga SM (1989) The effects of trees on their physical, chemical and biological environments in a semi-arid savanna in Kenya. J Appl Ecol 26: 1005–1024Google Scholar
  2. Bernhard-Reversat F (1982) Biogeochemical cycle of nitrogen in a semi-arid savanna. Oikos 38: 321–332Google Scholar
  3. Birch HF (1958) The effect of drying on humus decomposition and nitrogen availability. Plant Soil 10: 9–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Binkley D and Hart SC (1989) The components of nitrogen availability assessments in forest soils. Adv in Soil Sci 10: 57–112Google Scholar
  5. Brown P and Young A (1962) The Physical Environment of Central Malawi with Special Reference to Soils and Agriculture. Nyasaland Govt Printer, Zomba, Malawi, 93 ppGoogle Scholar
  6. Bunderson WT, Saka AR, Itimu OA, Mbekeani Y and Phombeya HKS (1995) Effects of Acacia albida on maize (Zea mays L.) grain yields under traditional management in Malawi. Ecol Manage (in press)Google Scholar
  7. Carsky RJ, Reid WS, Suhet AR and Lathwell DJ (1990) Screening legume green manures as nitrogen sources to succeed non-legume crops: III. The buried-bag method. Plant Soil 128: 275–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Charreau C and Vidal P (1965) Influence de l'Agronomie Trop 20: (6–7): 600–625Google Scholar
  9. Charreau C and Nicou R (1971) L'Amelioration du profil cultural dans les sols sableux et sablo-argileux de la zone tropicale seche ouest-Africaines et ses incidences agronmiques. L'Agronomie Trop 26: 565–631Google Scholar
  10. Dancette D, and Poulain JF (1969) Influence of Acacia albida on pedo-climatic factors and crop yields. Sols Afr 14 (1–2): 143–184Google Scholar
  11. Depommier D, Janodet E and Oliver R (1992) Faidherbia albida and their influence on soils and crops at Watinoma, Burkina Faso. In: Vandenbeldt RJ (ed) Faidherbia albida in the West African Semi-Arid Tropics: Proceedings of a Workshop, 22–26 April 1991, pp 111–115. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, India, and International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  12. Eno CF (1960) Nitrate production in the field by incubating the soil in polyethylene bags. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 24: 277–279Google Scholar
  13. Farrell J (1990) The influence of trees in selected agroecosystems in Mexico. In: Gliessman SR (ed) Agroecology: Researching the Ecological Basis for Sustainable Agriculture, Ecological Studies Vol 78, pp 169–183. Springer-Verlag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Felker P (1978) State of the Art:Acacia albida as a Complementary Permanent Intercrop with Annual Crops. University of California, Riverside, CA, USA, 133 ppGoogle Scholar
  15. Geiger SC, Vandenbeldt RJ and Manu A (1992) Preexisting soil fertility and the variable growth of Faidherbia albida. In: Vandenbeldt RJ (ed) Faidherbia albida in the West African Semi-Arid Tropics: Proceedings of a Workshop, 22–26 April 1991, pp 131–135. International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, India, and International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  16. Ismail AMA (1986) The significance of crown architecture inAcacia albida in the Sudan. J Trop Ecol 2: 51–54Google Scholar
  17. Jama B and Getahun A (1991) Intercropping Acacia albida with maize (Zea mays) and green gram (Phaseolus aureus) in Mtwapa, Coast Province, Kenys. Agroforestry Systems 14: 193–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jung G (1966) The Influence of A. albida (Del) on Microbial Processes in the Soil and Their Seasonal Variations. ORSTOM, Dakar, SenegalGoogle Scholar
  19. Jung G (1970) Variations saisonnieres des caracteristiques microbiologiques d'un sol ferrugineux tropicale peu lessive (Dior), soumis ou non l'influence d'Acacia albida (Del). Oecologia Plant 5: 113–136Google Scholar
  20. Kamara CS and Haque I (1992) Faidherbia albida and its effects on Ethiopian highland Vertisols. Agroforestry Systems 18: 17–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kessler JJ and Breman H (1991) The potential of agroforestry to increase primary production in the Sahelian and Sudanian zones of west Africa. Agroforestry Systems 13: 41–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Maghembe JA and Seyani JH (1991) Multipurpose trees used by smallholder farmers in Malawi: results of an ethnobotanical survey. AFRENA Technical Report No 42. International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) Nairobi, Kenya, 30 ppGoogle Scholar
  23. Miehe S (1986) Acacia albida and other multipurpose trees on the Fur farmlands in the Jebel Marra Highlands, Western Darfur, Sudan. Agroforestry Systems 4: 89–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Palm C, Robertson P and Vitousek P (1989) Nitrogen Availability. In: Anderson JM and Ingram JSI (ed) Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility: A Handbook of Methods, pp 162–168. CAB International, Wallingford, UKGoogle Scholar
  25. Parton WJ, Schimel DS, Cole CV and Ojima DS (1987) Analysis of factors controlling soil organic matter levels in Great Plains grasslands. Soil Sci Soc Am J 51: 1173–1179Google Scholar
  26. Poschen P (1989) An evaluation of the Acacia albida-based agroforestry practices in the Hararhge highlands of eastern Ethiopia. In: Nair PKR (ed) Agroforestry Systems in the Tropics, pp 385–400. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  27. Radwanski SA and Wickens GE (1967) The ecology of Acacia albida on mantle soil in Zalingei, Jebel Marra, Sudan. J Appl Ecol 4: 567–578Google Scholar
  28. United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Survey Staff (1990) Keys to soil taxonomy. USDA Soil Management Support Service Technical Monograph No 19. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Blacksburg, VAGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Rhoades
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations