Intercropping with sweet corn (Zea mays L. var. rugosa Bonaf.) expands P acquisition channels of chili pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) via arbuscular mycorrhizal hyphal networks

  • Junli Hu
  • Minghui Li
  • Homgmin Liu
  • Qi Zhao
  • Xiangui Lin
Soils, Sec 1 • Soil Organic Matter Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling • Research Article



Intercropping of chili pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) with corn (Zea mays L.) is one of the main valuable intercropping patterns. However, the potential contribution of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal hyphal networks is still poorly understood. The purpose of this work was to resolve the changes of AM fungal propagation and colonization in the pepper/corn intercropping systems due to the constitution of hyphal networks and the networks’ effects on plant nutrient uptake and interspecific competitive relations.

Materials and methods

An 18-week pot experiment on an unsterilized soil was carried out to test mycorrhizal performance and P acquisition of chili pepper and sweet corn (Zea mays L. var. rugosa Bonaf.) in two compartments, which were absolutely separated (Sep) by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) layer or semi-separated (Semi-Sep) by nylon mesh (30 μm) screen that only allows the passage of AM fungal hyphae but not plant roots. Root mycorrhizal colonization rates and the biomasses and P concentrations of shoots, roots, and fruits of pepper and corn were all measured. The total P acquisition of each crop per pot and the acquisition ratio of one to two crops were assessed. Soil pH, organic C, total P, available P, AM fungal abundance, and acid phosphatase activity were also tested.

Results and discussion

In the Sep system, root mycorrhizal colonization, P acquisition amount, shoot biomass, and rhizosphere AM fungal abundance of corn were all higher (P < 0.05) than those of pepper, but soil available P concentration was lower (P < 0.05) in corn compartment than in pepper one. Compared with Sep, Semi-Sep had higher (P < 0.05) mycorrhizal colonization rates with both intercrops and higher (P < 0.05) soil acid phosphatase activity and AM fungal abundance in corn and pepper compartments, respectively. Semi-Sep decreased (P < 0.05) soil available P concentrations with both compartments, but did not narrow the difference of soil available P concentration between compartments, suggesting there was no gradient diffusion of soil available P between compartments. Semi-Sep increased (P < 0.05) the P acquisition ratio and fruit yield of pepper, but not corn.


Constitution of hyphal networks increased mycorrhizal colonization with both intercrops, and corn supplied part of photosynthetic C for increasing AM fungal propagules in pepper compartment by gradient expansion since AM fungi formed better symbioses with corn. Hyphal networks increased pepper fruit yield via improving P distribution to pepper, but acquired relatively higher P from corn compartment via elevating the soil acid phosphatase activity, suggesting enhanced P competitive ability of pepper against corn upon hyphal networks.


AM fungal abundance P competitive ability Semi-separation Soil acid phosphatase activity Soil available P 



We are grateful to Ms. Yu Zhang for her assistance in pot experiment and to two anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions on manuscript revision.

Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation (No.41671265) and the National Key R & D Program (2016YFD0200306) of China, and the Strategic Priority Research Program (XDB15030202) and Knowledge Innovation Program (ISSASIP1634) of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Junli Hu is supported by the fellowship of the Youth Innovation Promotion Association (No. 2016285), CAS.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Junli Hu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Minghui Li
    • 1
  • Homgmin Liu
    • 1
  • Qi Zhao
    • 1
  • Xiangui Lin
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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