The relative contributions of pH, organic anions, and phosphatase to rhizosphere soil phosphorus mobilization and crop phosphorus uptake in maize/alfalfa polyculture

  • Baoru Sun
  • Yingzhi GaoEmail author
  • Xue Wu
  • Huimin Ma
  • Congcong Zheng
  • Xinyu Wang
  • Hualiang Zhang
  • Zhijian Li
  • Haijun Yang
Regular Article



To investigate the relative contributions of pH, organic anions concentration, and phosphatase activity to rhizosphere soil phosphorus availability and crop phosphorus uptake in polycultures.


A field experiment was conducted for three consecutive years in a split-plot design with main plots treated with two phosphorus levels and subplots treated with maize and alfalfa grown alone or intercropped.


Intercropped maize and alfalfa had 0.35 and 0.24 units lower rhizosphere pH, 28% and 30% higher total organic anions (TOA) concentration, and 21% and 41% greater acid phosphatase activity than those in monoculture. These changes in root exudates induced significant increases in rhizosphere phosphorus concentration of intercropped maize and alfalfa by 21% and 41%, and pH and TOA had greatest contributions, respectively. Rhizosphere phosphorus mobilization facilitated phosphorus uptake of intercropped maize, but this facilitation was offset by phosphorus uptake reduction due to decreased crown root surface area. Lateral root volume enhancement accounted for phosphorus uptake improvement of intercropped alfalfa by 86.6%, while rhizosphere phosphorus mobilization only had a 0.2% contribution.


Rhizosphere pH and organic anions exhibit greater contributions than acid phosphatase activity in enhancing rhizosphere phosphorus availability. However, root surface area of maize and lateral root volume of alfalfa unveil greater influences on crop phosphorus uptake than rhizosphere pH and organic anions.


Mycorrhizal colonization rate Phosphorus uptake Polyculture Rhizosphere phosphorus mobilization Root architecture Root exudates 



This work was financially supported by the National Key Basic Research Program of China (2016YFC0500703), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31670446, 31870436, 31270444, U1803110 and 31800378), Jilin Special Program for Key Science and Technology Research (Y8D1161001), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2018 M630220), and the Major State Basic Research Development Program of China (2015CB150801). Special thanks to Jenna Reeger for critical review of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4110_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.3 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 4371 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Baoru Sun
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yingzhi Gao
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Xue Wu
    • 1
  • Huimin Ma
    • 1
  • Congcong Zheng
    • 1
  • Xinyu Wang
    • 1
  • Hualiang Zhang
    • 1
  • Zhijian Li
    • 1
  • Haijun Yang
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Vegetation EcologyNortheast Normal UniversityChangchunChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyThe Chinese Academy of Science (IBCAS)BeijingChina
  3. 3.State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory of Wetland Ecology and Vegetation RestorationNortheast Normal UniversityJilin ProvinceChina
  4. 4.School of Biology and Geography ScienceYili Normal UniversityXinjiangChina

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