Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 349–363 | Cite as

Effects of Faidherbia albida canopy and leaf litter on soil microbial communities and nitrogen mineralization in selected Zambian soils

  • Jones YengweEmail author
  • Mesfin Tsegaye Gebremikael
  • David Buchan
  • Obed Lungu
  • Stefaan De Neve


The nitrogen status of most Zambian soils is inherently low. Nitrogen-fixing trees such as Faidherbia albida (F. albida) could have the potential to restore soil fertility. We conducted a study to examine the role of mature F. albida trees on the soil microbial communities and overall N fertility status in Zambia. Soil samples were collected under and outside the canopies of F. albida trees in representative fields from two sites namely; Chongwe (loamy sand) and Monze (sandy loam). To assess the long term canopy effects; total N, mineral N and soil organic carbon (Corg) content were directly measured from soils collected under and outside the canopy. Short term litter effects were assessed by subtracting concentrations of biochemical properties of non-amended controls from amended soils with F. albida litter during an 8 week incubation experiment. We also determined N mineralization rates, microbial community structure—Phospholipid fatty acids, microbial biomass carbon, and labile organic carbon (\({\text{C}}_{{{\text{org[K}}_{ 2} {\text{SO}}_{ 4} ]}}\)) during incubation. For the long term canopy effect, average N mineralization rate, Corg, total N and mineral N content of non-amended soils under the canopy were (all significant at p < 0.05) greater than soils outside the canopy on both sites. In the short term, amending soils with litter significantly increased N mineralization rates by an average of 0.52 mg N kg−1 soil day−1 on soil from Monze. Microbial biomass carbon measured after 4 weeks of incubation was on average significantly higher on amended soils by 193 and 334 mg C kg−1 soil compared with non-amended soils in Chongwe and Monze soils, respectively. After 6 weeks of incubation, the concentration of all selected biomarkers for major microbial groups concentrations in non-amended soils were significantly higher (all p < 0.05) under the canopy than outside in Monze soil. Using principal component analysis, we found that the segregation of the samples under and outside the canopy by the first principal component (PC1) could be attributed to a proportional increase in abundances of all microbial groups. Uniform loadings on PC1 indicated that no single microbial group dominated the microbial community. The second principal component separated samples based on incubation time and location. It was mainly loaded with G-positive bacteria, and partly with G-negative bacteria, indicating that microbial composition was dominated by these bacterial groups probably at the beginning of the incubation on Monze soils. Our results show that the improvement of soil fertility status by F. albida could be attributed to a combination of both long term modifications of the soil biological and chemical properties under the canopy as well as short term litter fall addition.


Faidherbia albida Incubation Microbial biomass N mineralization PLFA Zambia 



This research was financed by VLIR-UOS through an ICP-PhD scholarship awarded to Jones Yengwe. We thank the technical staff in the Department of Soil Management (Ghent University) and Department of Soil Science (University of Zambia) for their technical assistance during laboratory analyses.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jones Yengwe
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Mesfin Tsegaye Gebremikael
    • 1
  • David Buchan
    • 1
  • Obed Lungu
    • 2
  • Stefaan De Neve
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil Management, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Soil Science, School of Agricultural SciencesUniversity of ZambiaLusakaZambia

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