In the northern grain and cotton region of Australia, poor crop growth after long periods of fallow, called ‘long-fallow’ disorder, is caused by a decline of natural arbuscular-mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). When cotton was grown in large pots containing 22 kg of Vertisol from a field recently harvested from cotton in Central Queensland, plants in pasteurised soil were extremely stunted compared with plants in unpasteurised soil. We tested the hypothesis that this extreme stunting was caused by the absence of AMF and examined whether such stunted plants could recover from subsequent treatment with AMF spores and/or P fertiliser. At 42 days after sowing, the healthy cotton growing in unpasteurised soil had 48% of its root-length colonised with AMF, whereas the stunted cotton had none. After inoculation with AMF spores (6 spores/g soil of Glomus mosseae) and/or application of P fertiliser (50 mg P/kg soil) at 45 days after sowing, the stunted plants commenced to improve about 25 days after treatment, and continued until their total dry matter and seed cotton production equalled that of plants growing in unpasteurised soil with natural AMF. In contrast, non-mycorrhizal cotton grown without P fertiliser remained stunted throughout and produced no bolls and only 1% of the biomass of mycorrhizal cotton. Even with the addition of P fertiliser, non-mycorrhizal cotton produced only 64% of the biomass and 58% of the seed cotton (lint + seed) of mycorrhizal cotton plants. These results show that cotton is highly dependent on AMF for P nutrition and growth in Vertisol (even with high rates of P fertiliser), but can recover from complete lack of AMF and consequent stunting during at least the first 45 days of growth when treated with AMF spores and/or P fertiliser. This corroborates field observations in the northern region that cotton may recover from long-fallow disorder caused by low initial levels of AMF propagules in the soil as the AMF colonisation of its roots increases during the growing season.
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We thank J. Kochman for drawing our attention to this cotton stunting and A. Kelly and K. Bell for statistical analysis.
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Thompson, J.P., Seymour, N.P. & Clewett, T.G. Stunted cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) fully recovers biomass and yield of seed cotton after delayed root inoculation with spores of an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (Glomus mosseae). Australasian Plant Pathol. 41, 431–437 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13313-012-0137-3
- Long-fallow disorder
- Relative mycorrhizal dependency
- Glomus macrocarpum
- Glomus etunicatum