Plant and Soil

, Volume 174, Issue 1–2, pp 3–28 | Cite as

Biological nitrogen fixation: An efficient source of nitrogen for sustainable agricultural production?

  • M. B. Peoples
  • D. F. Herridge
  • J. K. Ladha


A fundamental shift has taken place in agricultural research and world food production. In the past, the principal driving force was to increase the yield potential of food crops and to maximize productivity. Today, the drive for productivity is increasingly combined with a desire for sustainability. For farming systems to remain productive, and to be sustainable in the long-term, it will be necessary to replenish the reserves of nutrients which are removed or lost from the soil. In the case of nitrogen (N), inputs into agricultural systems may be in the form of N-fertilizer, or be derived from atmospheric N2 via biological N2 fixation (BNF).

Although BNF has long been a component of many farming systems throughout the world, its importance as a primary source of N for agriculture has diminished in recent decades as increasing amounts of fertilizer-N are used for the production of food and cash crops. However, international emphasis on environmentally sustainable development with the use of renewable resources is likely to focus attention on the potential role of BNF in supplying N for agriculture. This paper documents inputs of N via symbiotic N2 fixation measured in experimental plots and in farmers' fields in tropical and temperate regions. It considers contributions of fixed N from legumes (crop, pasture, green manures and trees), Casuarina, and Azolla, and compares the relative utilization of N derived from these sources with fertilizer N.

Key words

Azolla Casuarina legume nitrogen fertilizer rhizobia symbiotic N2 fixation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. B. Peoples
    • 1
  • D. F. Herridge
    • 2
  • J. K. Ladha
    • 3
  1. 1.CSIRO Division of Plant IndustryCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.NSW AgricultureTamworthAustralia
  3. 3.International Rice Research InstituteManilaPhilippines

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