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Nodulation and nitrogen fixation in extreme environments


Biological nitrogen fixation is a phenomenon occurring in all known ecosystems. Symbiotic nitrogen fixation is dependent on the host plant genotype, theRhizobium strain, and the interaction of these symbionts with the pedoclimatic factors and the environmental conditions. Extremes of pH affect nodulation by reducing the colonization of soil and the legume rhizosphere by rhizobia. Highly acidic soils (pH<4.0) frequently have low levels of phosphorus, calcium, and molybdenum and high concentrations of aluminium and manganese which are often toxic for both partners; nodulation is more affected than host-plant growth and nitrogen fixation. Highly alkaline soils (pH>8.0) tend to be high in sodium chloride, bicarbonate, and borate, and are often associated with high salinity which reduce nitrogen fixation. Nodulation and N-fixation are observed under a wide range of temperatures with optima between 20–30°C. Elevated temperatures may delay nodule initiation and development, and interfere with nodule structure and functioning in temperate Iegumes, whereas in tropical legumes nitrogen fixation efficiency is mainly affected. Furthermore, temperature changes affect the competitive ability ofRhizobium strains. Low temperatures reduce nodule formation and nitrogen fixation in temperate legumes; however, in the extreme environment of the high arctic, native legumes can nodulate and fix nitrogen at rates comparable to those observed with legumes in temperate climates, indicating that both the plants and their rhizobia have successfully adapted to arctic conditions. In addition to low temperatures, arctic legumes are exposed to a short growing season, a long photoperiod, low precipitation and low soil nitrogen levels. In this review, we present results on a number of structural and physiological characteristics which allow arctic legumes to function in extreme environments.

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Bordeleau, L.M., Prévost, D. Nodulation and nitrogen fixation in extreme environments. Plant Soil 161, 115–125 (1994).

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Key words

  • nodulation
  • nitrogenase
  • adaptation
  • extreme environments
  • arctic rhizobia