Plant and Soil

, Volume 368, Issue 1–2, pp 407–417 | Cite as

Effects of nitrogen fertilization and root interaction on the agronomic traits of intercropped maize, and the quantity of microorganisms and activity of enzymes in the rhizosphere

  • Xiangqian Zhang
  • Guoqin Huang
  • Xinmin Bian
  • Qiguo Zhao
Regular Article



To elucidate the mechanisms of the beneficial effects of below-ground root interactions in maize plus legume intercropping system,


A pot experiment was conducted using root separation techniques.


It is shown that root interaction and nitrogen fertilization increased chlorophyll content and improved plant characteristics of maize, and the effect of root interaction was significant (p<0.05). Compared to a full root separation treatment, no root separation increased the leaf and grain nitrogen contents, and economic and biological yields per maize plant by 9.3  %, 6.0  %, 14.0  %, and 6.5  %, respectively. Root interaction and nitrogen fertilization enhanced the numbers of bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and Azotobacteria and the activities of urease, invertase, acid-phosphatase and protease in soil. Correlation analyses revealed that the quantity of microorganisms and the activity of the aforementioned enzymes were all positively or significantly (p<0.05) positively correlated with chlorophyll content, plant height and economic and biological yields per maize plant.


The findings demonstrate that root interactions are important in improving the soil micro-ecological environment, increasing microbial quantity and enzyme activity in soil, and enhancing crop yield.


Root interaction Chlorophyll content Yield Microbial quantity Enzyme activities 



no root separation


partial root separation with nylon nets


full root separation with plastic film



This study was supported by research grants from the Chinese National Natural Science Fund (U1033004).


  1. Alvey S, Yang CH, Buerkert A, Crowley DE (2003) Cereal/legume rotation effects on rhizosphere bacterial community structure in West African soils. Biol Fertil Soils 37:73–82Google Scholar
  2. Balota EL, Colozzi-Filho A, Andrade DS, Dick RP (2003) Microbial biomass in soils under different tillage and crop rotation systems. Biol Fertil Soils 38:15–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baudoin E, Benizri E, Guckert A (2003) Impact of artificial root exudates on the bacterial community structure in bulk soil and maize rhizosphere. Soil Biol Biochem 35:1183–1192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berg MP, Kniese JP, Verhoef HA (1998) Dynamics and stratification of bacteria and fungi in the organic layers of a scots pine forest soil. Biol Fertil Soils 26:313–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Callaway RM (1995) Positive interactions among plants. Bot Rev 61:306–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Callaway RM (2007) Direct mechanisms for facilitation. In: Callaway RM (ed) Positive interactions and interdependence in plant communities. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 15–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chu GX, Shen QR, Cao JL (2004) Nitrogen fixation and N transfer from peanut to rice cultivated in aerobic soil in an intercropping system and its effect on soil N fertility. Plant Soil 263:17–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fang S, Li H, Sun Q, Chen L (2010) Biomass production and carbon stocks in poplar-crop intercropping systems: a case study in northwestern Jiangsu, China. Agrofor Syst 79:213–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Franchini JC, Crispino CC, Souza RA, Torres E, Hungaria M (2007) Microbiological parameters as indicators of soil quality under various soil management and crop rotation systems in southern Brazil. Soil Till Res 92:18–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gomez-Rodriguez O, Zavaleta-Mejia E, González-Hernández VA, Livera-Muñoz M, Cárdenas-Soriano E (2003) Allelopathy and microclimatic modification of intercropping with marigold on tomato early blight disease development. Field Crop Res 83:27–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Guan S, Zhang D, Zhang Z (1986) Soil enzyme and its research methods. Agriculture Press, Beijing (In Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Hauggaard-Nielsen H, Jensen ES (2005) Facilitative root interactions in intercrops. Plant Soil 274:237–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hinsinger P, Betencourt E, Bernard L, Brauman A, Plassard C, Shen J, Tang X, Zhang F (2011) P for Two, sharing a scarce resource: soil phosphorus acquisition in the rhizosphere of intercropped species. Plant Physiol 156:1078–1086PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kremer RJ, Kussman RD (2011) Soil quality in a pecan–kura clover alley cropping system in the Midwestern USA. Agrofor Syst 82:213–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lehmann J, Gebauer G, Zech W (2002) Nitrogen cycling assessment in a hedgerow intercropping system using 15 N enrichment. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 62:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Li L, Zhang F, Li X, Christie P, Sun J, Yang S, Tang C (2003a) Interspecific facilitation of nutrient uptake by intercropped maize and faba bean. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 65:61–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Li L, Tang C, Rengel Z, Zhang F (2003b) Chickpea facilitates phosphorus uptake by intercropped wheat from an organic phosphorus source. Plant Soil 248:297–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Li L, Li SM, Sun JH, Zhou LL, Bao XG, Zhang HG, Zhang FS (2007) Diversity enhances agricultural productivity via rhizosphere phosphorus facilitation on phosphorus-deficient soils. PNAS 104:11192–11196PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Li Y, Ran W, Zhang R, Sun S, Xu G (2009) Facilitated legume nodulation, phosphate uptake and nitrogen transfer by arbuscular inoculation in an upland rice and mung bean intercropping system. Plant Soil 315:285–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lupwayi NZ, Haque I (1999) Leucaena hedgerow intercropping and cattle manure application in the Ethiopian highlands I. Decomposition and nutrient release. Boil Fertil Soils 28:182–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Malézieux E, Crozat Y, Dupraz C, Laurans M, Makowski D, Ozier-Lafontaine H, Rapidel B, de Tourdonnet S, Valantin-Morison M (2009) Mixing plant species in cropping systems: concepts, tools and models. A review. Agron Sustain Dev 29:43–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Marschner P, Marino W, Lieberei R (2002) Seasonal effects on microorganisms in the rhizosphere of two tropical plants in a polyculture agroforestry system in Central Amazonia, Brazil. Biol Fertil Soils 35:68–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moscatelli MC, Fonck M, Angelis PD, Larbi H, Macuz A, Rambelli A, Grego S (2001) Mediterranean natural forest living at elevated carbon dioxide: soil biological properties and plant biomass growth. Soil Use Manag 17:195–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Parthasarathi K, Ranganathan LS (2000) Aging effect on enzyme activities in pressmud vermicasts of Lampito mauritii (Kinberg) and Eudrilus eugeniae (Kinberg). Biol Fertil Soils 30:347–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pearse SJ, Veneklaas EJ, Cawthray GR, Bolland MDA, Lambers H (2006) Carboxylate release of wheat, canola and 11 grain legume species as affected by phosphorus status. Plant Soil 288:127–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Raynaud X, Jaillard B, Leadley PW (2008) Plants may alter competition by modifying nutrient bioavailability in rhizosphere: a modeling approach. Am Nat 171:44–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Richardson AE, Barea J, McNeill AM, Prigent-Combaret C (2009) Acquisition of phosphorus and nitrogen in the rhizosphere and plant growth promotion by microorganisms. Plant Soil 321:305–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Song YN, Zhang FS, Marschner P, Fan FL, Gao HM, Bao XG, Sun JH, Li L (2007) Effect of intercropping on crop yield and chemical and microbiological properties in rhizosphere of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), maize(Zea mays L.), and faba bean(Vicia faba L.). Biol Fertil Soils 43:565–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tan X, Chang SX, Kabzems R (2008) Soil compaction and forest floor removal reduced microbial biomass and enzyme activities in a boreal aspen forest soil. Biol Fertil Soils 44:471–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Van der Heijden MGA, Bardgett RD, van Straalen NM (2008) The unseen majority: soil microbes as drivers of plant diversity and productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. Ecol Lett 11:296–310PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Vandermeer J (1989) The ecology of intercropping. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vieira FCS, Nahas E (2005) Comparison of microbial numbers in soils by using various culture media and temperatures. Microbiol Res 160:197–202PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wang H, Huang Y, Huang H, Wang KM, Zhou SY (2005) Soil properties under young Chinese fir-based agroforestry system in mid-subtropical China. Agrofor Syst 64:131–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang XK, Zhang WH, Hao ZB, Li XR, Zhang YQ, Wang SM (2006) Principles and techniques of plant physiological biochemical experiment. Higher Education Press, Beijing, pp 195–198, In ChineseGoogle Scholar
  35. Yu CB, Li YY, Li CJ, Sun JH, He XH, Zhang FS, Li L (2010) An improved nitrogen difference method for estimating biological nitrogen fixation in legume-based intercropping systems. Biol Fertil Soils 46:227–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Zhang F, Li L (2003) Using competitive and facilitative interactions in intercropping systems enhances crop productivity and nutrient-use efficiency. Plant Soil 248:305–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Zhang NN, Sun YM, Li L, Wang ET, Chen WX, Yuan HL (2010) Effects of intercropping and Rhizobium inoculation on yield and rhizosphere bacterial community of faba (Vicia faba L.). Biol Fertil Soils 46:625–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zuo Y, Zhang F, Li X, Cao Y (2000) Studies on the improvement in iron nutrition of peanut by intercropping with maize on a calcareous soil. Plant Soil 220:13–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiangqian Zhang
    • 1
  • Guoqin Huang
    • 2
  • Xinmin Bian
    • 1
  • Qiguo Zhao
    • 3
  1. 1.Agricultural CollegeNanjing Agricultural UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Research Center on Ecological SciencesJiangxi Agricultural UniversityNanchangPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Nanjing Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations