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Mycorrhizal fungi-mediated uptake of tree-derived nitrogen by maize in smallholder farms

Janina Dierks (), Wilma J. Blaser-Hart, Hannes A. Gamper and Johan Six
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Janina Dierks: ETH Zürich
Wilma J. Blaser-Hart: ETH Zürich
Hannes A. Gamper: ETH Zürich
Johan Six: ETH Zürich

Nature Sustainability, 2022, vol. 5, issue 1, 64-70

Abstract: Abstract Trees within farmers’ fields can enhance systems’ longer-term productivity, for example, via nutrient amelioration, which is indispensable to attain sustainable agroecosystems. While arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are known to improve plant access to soil nutrients, the potential of AMF to mediate nutrient uptake of tree-derived nitrogen (N) by crops from beyond the crops’ rooting zones is unclear. We hypothesized that AMF quantitatively contribute to the crop uptake of tree-derived N. We set up root- and AMF-exclusion and control plots around faidherbia trees (Faidherbia albida) and used the 15N natural abundance technique to determine the magnitude of AMF-mediated uptake of tree-derived N by maize from beyond its rooting zone in smallholder fields. We further tested whether AMF-mediated N uptake decreases with distance from tree. We show that within one cropping season, maize obtained approximately 35 kg ha–1 biologically fixed N from faidherbia. One-third of tree-derived N in maize leaves was attributed to AMF-mediated N uptake from beyond the maize rooting zone and two-thirds to N from tree leaf litter, regardless of distance from tree. As hypothesized, maize grown close (1 m) to faidherbia obtained significantly more tree-derived N than that at farther distances (4 and 5 m). Thus, the faidherbia–AMF association can enhance agroecosystem functioning.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00791-7

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