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Comparative measurements of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal responses to agricultural management practices

  • R. Michael LehmanEmail author
  • Shannon L. Osborne
  • Wendy I. Taheri
  • Jeffrey S. Buyer
  • Bee Khim Chim
Original Article


Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are considered to be a key group of soil organisms for assessments of soil biological properties and developing relationships among crop production management practices, soil properties, crop performance, and ecosystem services. In a field study of cover crop treatments established during the transition from small grains to corn (Zea mays L), we assessed multiple measures of AM fungal responses to the management treatments: soil propagule numbers, biomass via lipid biomarkers, and root colonization extent. Our objectives were to determine response variables that reliably distinguished cover crop treatments and formed consistent relationships with grain yield, plant biomass, and mineral nutrient concentrations of the following corn crop. The number of soil AM fungal propagules and amount of the NLFA biomarker C16:1cis11 measured on fall-collected soils most consistently and significantly responded to fall cover crop treatments. Neither of these measures of soil inoculum potential was strongly related to measures of crop performance. The PLFA biomarker C16:1cis11 was marginally responsive to cover crop but did not strongly relate to crop performance parameters. Corn root colonization by AM fungi was not significantly affected by cover crop treatment, but significant negative relationships were found between root colonization and grain N concentration and plant biomass at maturity. In contrast, a significant positive relationship between root colonization and plant N concentration at the 6-leaf stage was found. Understanding the relative effectiveness and limitations of AM fungal response variables will inform their application in field studies of agricultural management practices.


Agriculture Arbuscular mycorrhizae Cover crops Maize (Zea mays L.) Phosphorus 



The research was conducted with the technical support of Sharon Nichols, Amy Christie, Kurt Dagel, and Chris Nelson.

Funding information

This work was partially funded by the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.

Compliance with ethical standards


Mention of trade names or commercial products in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Supplementary material

572_2019_884_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (230 kb)
Figure S1 Amounts (nmol g−1) of the NLFA biomarker, C16:1cis11, for the eight cover crop treatments (mean ± one standard error; n = 4 plots). A. Fall-collected soils in 2009 and 2010. Bars topped by the same letter do not differ significantly at P ≤ 0.05 by protected t-test; pairwise comparisons are indicated per year with 2009 in lower case and 2010 in upper case letters. Data in panel A were previously published (Lehman et al. 2012). B. Spring-collected soils (2010) following first fall cover crop planting. There were no significant main effects of treatments, therefore no pairwise comparisons were performed. (PPTX 230 kb)
572_2019_884_MOESM2_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 14.1 kb)
572_2019_884_MOESM3_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Table S2 (DOCX 13 kb)
572_2019_884_MOESM4_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Table S3 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceNorth Central Agricultural Research LaboratoryBrookingsUSA
  2. 2.TerraNimbus, LLCPelhamUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceSustainable Agricultural Systems LaboratoryBeltsvilleUSA

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