The economic and environmental costs of the heavy use of chemical N fertilizers in agriculture are a global concern. Sustainability considerations mandate that alternatives to N fertilizers must be urgently sought. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), a microbiological process which converts atmospheric nitrogen into a plant-usable form, offers this alternative. Nitrogen-fixing systems offer an economically attractive and ecologically sound means of reducing external inputs and improving internal resources. Symbiotic systems such as that of legumes and Rhizobium can be a major source of N in most cropping systems and that of Azolla and Anabaena can be of particular value to flooded rice crop. Nitrogen fixation by associative and free-living microorganisms can also be important. However, scientific and socio-cultural constraints limit the utilization of BNF systems in agriculture. While several environmental factors that affect BNF have been studied, uncertainties still remain on how organisms respond to a given situation. In the case of legumes, ecological models that predict the likelihood and the magnitude of response to rhizobial inoculation are now becoming available. Molecular biology has made it possible to introduce choice attributes into nitrogen-fixing organisms but limited knowledge on how they interact with the environment makes it difficult to tailor organisms to order. The difficulty in detecting introduced organisms in the field is still a major obstacle to assessing the success or failure of inoculation. Production-level problems and socio-cultural factors also limit the integration of BNF systems into actual farming situations. Maximum benefit can be realized only through analysis and resolution of major constraints to BNF performance in the field and adoption and use of the technology by farmers.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alexander M 1985 Ecological constraints on nitrogen fixation in agricultural ecosystems. Adv. Microb. Ecol. 8, 163–168.
Almendras A S and Bottomley P J 1988 Cation and phosphate influences on the nodulating characteristics of indigenous serogroups of Rhizobium trifolii on soil grown Trifolium subteraneum L. Soil Biol. Biochem. 20, 345–352.
Atkins C A 1986 The legume/Rhizobium symbiosis: Limitations to maximizing nitrogen fixation. Outl. Agric. 15, 128–134.
Barker R and Chapman D 1988 The Economics of Sustainable Agricultural Systems in developing Countries. Mimeo, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Beck D P and Munns D N 1984 Phosphate nutrition of Rhizobium spp. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 47, 278–282.
Beck D P and Munns D N 1985 Effect of calcium on the phosphorus nutrition of Rhizobium meliloti. Soil. Sci. Soc. Am. J. 49, 334–337.
Bohlool B B 1987 Fluorescence methods for study of Rhizobium in culture and in situ. In Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Technology. Ed. G H Elkan. pp. 127–147 Marcel Dekker, Inc. New York.
Bohlool B B and Schmidt E L 1973 Persistence and competitive aspects of Rhizobium japonicum observed in soil by immunofluorescence microscopy. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 37, 561–564.
Bohlool B B and Schmidt E L 1980 The immunofluorescence approach in microbial ecology. In Advances in Ecology. Ed. M Alexander. pp203–235. Vol. 4. Plenum Press, New York, London.
Bouldin D R 1986 The chemistry and biology of flooded soils in relation to the nitrogen economy in rice fields. In Nitrogen Economy of Flooded Rice Soils. Eds. S K DeDatta and W H Patrick pp1–14. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Byrlee D 1987 Mainmaining the momentum in post-green revolution agriculture: A micro-level perspective from Asia. MSU International Development Paper No. 10, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.
Callaham D, DelTredici P and Torrey J G 1978 Isolation and cultivation in vitro of the actinomycete causing root nodulation in Comptonia. Science 199, 899–902.
Cassman K G, Munns D N and Beck D P 1981 Growth of Rhizobium strains at low concentrations of phosphate. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 45, 520–523.
Danso S K A and Owiredu J D 1988 Competitiveness of introduced and indigenous cowpea Bradyrhizobium strains for nodule formation on cowpeas Vigna unguiculata (L.) (Walp.) in three soils. Soil Biol. Biochem. 20, 305–310.
Danso S K, Bowen G D and Sanginga N 1992 Biological nitrogen fixation in trees in agroecosystems Plant and Soil 141, 177–196.
Diem H G, Gauthier D and Dommergues Y R 1982 Isolation of Frankia from nodules of Casuarina equisetifolia. Can. J. Microbiol. 28, 526–530.
Dowling D N and Broughton W J 1986 Competition for nodulation of legumes. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 40, 131–157.
Dunigan E P, Bollick P K, Huchinson R L, Hicks P M, Azubrecher F C, School S G and Mowers R P 1984 Introduction and survival of an inoculant strain of Rhizobium japonicum in soil. Agron. J. 76, 463–466.
Ellis W R, Ham G E and Schmidt E L 1984 Persistence and recovery of Rhizobium japonicum in a field. Agron. J. 76, 573–576.
Evans H J 1975 Enhancing Biological Nitrogen Fixation. National Science Foundation. Dir. Biological and Medical Sciences, Washington, DC 20550.
Freire J R 1984 Important limiting factors in soil for the Rhizobium-legume symbiosis. In BNF Ecology, Technology and Physiology. Ed. M Alexander pp51–74. Plenum Press, New York, London.
Fujita K, Ofosu-Budu K G and Ogata S 1992 Biological nitrogen fixation in mixed legume-cereal cropping systems. Plant and Soil 141, 155–176.
Garrity D P 1990 Agronomic research on biofertilizers at IRRI: Overcoming systems-level constraints. In Proc. of the Nat. Symp. on Bio-and Organic Fertilizers. Univ. of the Philippines, Los Baños, Philippines. pp309–320.
Garrity D P, Roberto T B, Crecensia C B, Pye Tin and Riaz M 1990 Indigofera tinctoria: Farmer-proven green manure for rainfed ricelands. In Proc. of the Nat. Symp. on Bio-and Organic Fertilizers. Univ. of the Philippines, Los Baños, Philippines. pp261–284.
Gauthier D, Diem H G, Dommergues Y R and Ganry F 1985 Assessment of N2 fixation by Casuarina equisetifolia inoculated with Frankia ORS021001 using 15N methods. Soil Biol. Biochem. 17, 375–379.
George T, Ladha J K, Buresh R J and Garrity D P 1992 Managing native and legume-fixed nitrogen in lowland rice-based cropping systems. Plant and Soil 141, 69–91.
George T, Singleton P W and Bohlool B B 1988 Yield, soil nitrogen uptake, and nitrogen fixation by soybean from four maturity groups grown at three elevations. Agron. J. 80, 63–567.
Gibson A H 1977 The influence of environmental and managerial practices in the legume-Rhizobium symbiosis. In A Treatise on Dinitrogen Fixation. Section IV: Agronomy and Ecology. Eds. R W FHardy and A H Gibson. pp 393–450. Wiley, New York.
Helyar K R and Munns D N 1975 Phosphate fluxes in the soil-plant system. Hilgardia 43, 103–130.
Holben W E, Jansson J K, Chelm B K and Tiedje J M 1988 DNA probe method for the detection of specific micro-organisms in the soil bacterial community. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 54, 703–711.
Ishizuka J 1992 Trends in biological nitrogen fixation research and application. Plant and Soil 141, 197–209.
Kang B T 1990 Alley farming. Adv. Agron. 43, 315–359.
Keeney D 1982 Nitrogen management for maximum efficiency and minimum pollution. In Nitrogen in Agricultural Soils. Ed. F J Stevenson. Agronomy Monograph 22, pp 605–649, ASA, Madison, WI.
Keyser H H and Munns D N 1979 Effects of calcium, manganese, and aluminum on growth of rhizobia in acid media. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 43, 500–503.
Keyser H H and Li F 1992 Potential for increasing biological nitrogen fixation in soybean. Plant and Soil 141, 119–135.
Khanna-Chopra R and Sinha R 1989 Impact of climate variation on production of pulses. In Climate and Food Security. pp219–236. The Int. Rice Research Inst., Los Baños, Philippines.
King F H 1911 Farmers of Forty Centuries. Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, PA. 441 p
Koyama T and App A 1979 Nitrogen balance in flooded rice soils. In Nitrogen and Rice, The Int. Rice Research Inst. pp95–104. Los Baños, Philippines.
Ladha J K, Pareek R P and Becker M 1992 Stem-nodulating legume-Rhizobium-symbiosis and its agronomic use in lowland rice. Adv. Soil Sci. In press.
Ladha J K, Pareek R P, So R and Becker M 1990 Stem nodule symbiosis and its unusual properties. In Nitrogen Fixation: Achievements and Objectives, Eds. P M Gresshoff, L E Roth, G Stacey and W L Newton pp633–640. Chapman and Hall, New York, London.
Ledgard S F and Steele K W 1992 Biological nitrogen fixation in mixed legume/grass pastures. Plant and Soil 141, 137–153.
Leung K and Bottomley P J 1987 Influence of phosphate on the growth and nodulation characteristics of Rhizobium trifolii. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 53, 2098–2105.
Lumpkin T A and Plucknett D L 1982 Azolla as a green manure: Use and management in crop production. Westview Tropical Agriculture Series No.5, Westview Press, Boulder. CO. 225 p.
Munns D N 1977 Soil acidity and related matters. In Exploiting the Legume-Rhizobium Symbiosis in Tropical Agriculture. Eds. J M Vincent, A S Whitney and J Bose. pp 211–236. Univ. Hawaii Coll. Trop. Agr. Misc. Publ. 145.
Munns D N and Franco A A 1982 Soil constraints to legume production. In Biological Nitrogen Fixation Technology for Tropical Agriculture. Eds. P H Graham and S C Harris. pp 133–152. CIAT Workshop 1981, Cali, Columbia.
National Academy of Sciences 1979 Tropical Legumes: Resources for the Future. Washington, DC. 331 p.
National Research Council (US) 1984 Casuarinas: Nitrogen-fixing Trees for Adverse Sites. National Academy Press, Washington, DC. 118 p.
Odum E P 1989 Input management of production system. Science 243, 177–182.
Peoples M B and Crasswell E T 1992 Biological nitrogen fixation: Investiments, expectations and actual contributions to agriculture. Plant and Soil 141, 13–39.
Pingali P L, Moya P F and Velasco L E 1990 The post-green revolution blues in asian rice production—The diminished gap between experiment station and farmer yields. IRRI Social Science Division paper No 90–01.
Plucknett D L and Smith N J H 1986 Sustaining agricultural yields. Bioscience 36, 40–45.
Pradhan P 1988 The establishment requirements of Sesbania rostrata as a pre-rice green manure. M. Sc. Thesis. Univ. of the Philippines, Los Baños, Philippines. 189 p.
Roger P A and Ladha J K 1992 Biological N2 fixation in wetland rice fields: Estimation and contribution to nitrogen balance. Plant and Soil 141, 41–55.
Russell J P, Beech D F and Jone P N 1989 Grain legume productivity in subsistence agriculture. Food Policy 14, 129–142.
Sanchez P A 1980 Management considerations for acid soils with high phosphorus fixation capacity. In The Role of Phosphorus in Agriculture. pp471–514. American Society of Agronomy. Madison, WI.
Shanmugasundaram S 1988 Seed production and management of mungbean and soybean. In Sustainable Agriculture: Green Manure in Rice Farming. pp359–376. The Int. Rice Research Inst., Los Baños, Philippines.
Singer M J and Munns D N 1987 Soils, an Introduction. Macmillan, New York 492 p.
Singleton P W, Abdel-Magid H M and Tavares J W 1985 The effect of phosphorus on the effectiveness of strains of Rhizobium japonicum. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 49, 613–616.
Singleton P W and Bohlool B B 1983 Effect of salinity on the functional components of the soybean-Rhizobium japonicum symbiosis. Crop Sci. 23, 259–262.
Singleton P W, Bohlool B B and Nakao P 1992 Legume response to rhizobial inoculation in the tropics: Myths and realities. In Myths and Science of the Soils of the Tropics. Eds. R Lal and P Sanchez. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Spec. Publ. No. 29. Madison, WI. In press.
Singleton P W and Tavares J W 1986 Inoculation response of legumes in relation to the number and effectiveness of indigenous Rhizobium populations. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 51, 1013–1018.
TAC CGIAR 1988 Sustainable agricultural production: Implications for international agricultural research. CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) Meeting, Berlin, Germany.
Thies J E, Singleton P W and Bohlool B B 1991a Influence of the size of indigenous rhizobial populations on establishment and symbiotic performance of introduced rhizobia on field-grown legumes. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 57, 19–28.
Thies J E, Singleton P W and Bohlool B B 1991b Modeling symbiotic performance of introduced rhizobia in the field by use of indices of indigenous population size and nitrogen status of the soil. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 57, 29–37.
Tiepkema J D, Schwintzer C R and Bensen D R 1986 Physiology of actinorhizal nodules. Annu. Rev. Plant Physiol. 36, 209–232.
Torrey J G 1978 Nitrogen fixation by actinomycete-nodulated angiosperms. Bioscience 28, 586–592.
Urquiaga S, Botteon P B L and Boddey R M 1989 Selection of sugarcane cultivars for associated biological nitrogen fixation using 15N labelled soil. In Nitrogen Fixation with Non-Legumes. Eds. F A Skinner R M Boddey and I Fendrik pp311–319. Kluwer Academic Publisher, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
Watanabe I and Liu C C 1992 Improving nitrogenfixing systems and integrating them into sustainable rice farming. Plant and Soil 141, 57–67.
Weaver R W and Frederick L R 1974a Effect of inoculum rate on competitive nodulation of Glycine max L. Merrill. I. Greenhouse studies. Agron. J. 66, 229–232.
Weaver R W and Frederick L R 1974b Effect of inoculum rate on competitive nodulation of Glycine max L. Merrill. II. Field studies. Agron. J. 66, 233–236.
Weber D F and Miller V L 1972 Effect of soil temperature on Rhizobium japonicum serogroup distribution in soybean nodules. Agron. J. 64, 796–798.
Willey R W 1979 Intercropping—its importance and research needs. Part 2: Agronomy and research approaches. Field Crops Abstr. 32, 73–85.
About this article
Cite this article
Bohlool, B.B., Ladha, J.K., Garrity, D.P. et al. Biological nitrogen fixation for sustainable agriculture: A perspective. Plant Soil 141, 1–11 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00011307