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Adaptation of green manure legumes to adverse conditions in rice lowlands

Becker, M., Ladha, J.K.
Biology and fertility of soils 1996 v.23 no.3 pp. 243-248
interspecific variation, Mollisols, rice soils, nitrogen content, Entisols, Ultisols, nitrogen fixation, submergence, rice, chemical constituents of plants, Aeschynomene, green manures, Sesbania, drought, flooded conditions, soil fertility, photoperiod, Inceptisols, lowlands
Poor adoption of sustainable pre-rice green manure technology by lowland farmers is frequently associated with unreliable legume performance under adverse environmental conditions such as marginal soils, short photoperiod, and unfavorable hydrology. A series of field and microplot experiments were conducted at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 1991 and 1992 to screen and evaluate 12 promising flood-tolerant legumes for adaptation (N accumulation and biological N2 fixation) to a range of environmental stresses, frequently encountered in rice lowlands. Legumes belonging to the genera Sesbania and Aeschynomene were grown for 8 weeks at 10X10 cm spacing: (1) in a fertile control soil and in four marginally productive irrigated lowland rice soils (sandy Entisol, P-deficient Inceptisol, acid Ultisol, and saline Mollisol); (2) during short- (11.7 h) and long-day (12.3 h) seasons in a favorable irrigated lowland soil; and (3) in an aerobic soil (drought-prone rain-fed lowland) and a deep-flood-prone lowland soil (1 week seedling submergence). A large variability in N accumulation was observed among legume species and across different environments, ranging from less than 1 to over 70 mg N plant-1. The nitrogen derived from the atmosphere (Ndfa) accounted on average for 82% of total N accumulation. Sesbania virgata was least affected by unfavorable soil conditions but its Ndfa was the lowest among the tested species (less than 60%). Stem nodule formation did not convey a significant advantage to legumes grown under adverse soil conditions. However, flooding reduced N2 fixation less in stem-nodulating than in solely root-nodulating species. Most species drastically reduced N accumulation under short-day conditions. Aeschynomene afraspera and S. speciosa were least affected by photoperiod. The considerable genetic variability in the germplasm screened allows the selection of potentially appropriate legumes to most conditions studied, thus increasing N accumulation in green manures.