Plant-mediated rhizospheric interactions in maize-pigeon pea intercropping enhance soil aggregation and organic phosphorus storage
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Background and aims
In Malawi, strategies are being sought to boost maize production through improvements in soil fertility. This study assessed the impact of intercropping maize (Zea mays) with pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) in Lixisols of Malawi on yield, biological N fixation, soil aggregation, and P forms within soil aggregates.
Maize and pigeon pea were grown intercropped in pots, with varying degrees of root interaction in order to understand the relative importance of biochemical versus physical rhizospheric interactions. Following harvest, soils were separated into aggregate fractions using wet-sieving, and the nutrient content of all fractions was assessed.
The proportion of macroaggregates and microaggregates increased by 52 and 111%, respectively, in the intercropping treatment compared to sole maize, which significantly increased organic P storage in the microaggregates of intercropped compared to sole maize (84 versus 29 mg P kg−1, respectively). Biologically fixed N increased from 89% in the sole pigeon pea to 96% in the intercropped system.
Intercropping maize with pigeon pea can have a significant and positive impact on soil structure as well as nutrient storage in these high P-sorbing soils. This is caused primarily by physical root contact and to a lesser degree by biochemical activities.
KeywordsPhosphorus Soil aggregation Zea mays Cajanus cajan Intercropping Lixisol
We would like to thank Dr. Sieglinde Snapp, Dr. Regis Chikowo and Betserai Isaac Nyoka for help with obtaining the soil for the greenhouse trial, Dr. Federica Tamburini for help with the mass spectrometer measurements, as well as Silvan Strebel and Dr. Ping Huang for help with laboratory analyses.
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