Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 30, Number 1, January-March 2010
|Page(s)||57 - 66|
|Published online||04 April 2009|
Nitrogen rhizodeposition of legumes. A review
UP-SP LEVA, Laboratoire d’Écophysiologie Végétale et Agroécologie, École
55 rue Rabelais,
Angers Cedex 01,
2 UMR INRA-UCBN 950 EVA, Écophysiologie Végétale, Agronomie et nutritions N, C, S, Université de Caen, 14032 Caen Cedex, France
* Corresponding author:
Accepted: 22 January 2009
Because nitrogen is one of the major elements limiting growth of plants in agrosystems, large amounts of N fertilisers have been used in the second half of the twentieth century. Chemical fertilisers have contributed to increasing crop yields and food supply, but they have induced environmental damage such as nitrate pollution and wasting fossil fuel. The use of legumes grown in rotations or intercropping is now regarded as an alternative and sustainable way of introducing N into lower input agrosystems. Here we review agricultural practices, measurement methods and biological pathways involved in N cycling. We show that plant roots interact intimately with soil microflora to convert the most abundant but relatively inert form of N, atmospheric N2, into biological substrates available for growth of other plants, through two consecutive processes; namely, N2 fixation and N rhizodeposition. In intercropping, companion plants benefit from biological fixation by legumes and subsequent transfer of N from legumes to non-legumes. This transfer from legumes to the release of N compounds by legume roots, a process named rhizodeposition, then the uptake by the companion crop. The two main rhizodeposition pathways are (i) decomposition and decay of nodules and root cells, and (ii) exudation of soluble N compounds by plant roots. The contribution of root N and rhizodeposited N to the soil-N pool is difficult to measure, particularly in the field. Firstly, root N is often underestimated because root recovery is problematic. Second, assessment of N rhizodeposition is challenging. Several 15N labelling methods have been performed for different legume species. Rhizodeposition of N, as a percentage of total plant N, varied from 4 to 71%. The high variability of the results illustrates the need for more studies of the environmental and genetic factors influencing the amount of N rhizodeposits released by legumes under field conditions.
Key words: N rhizodeposition / legumes / N2 fixation / 15N / isotopic methods / root exudates / ecological fertilisation
© INRA, EDP Sciences, 2010