Main content area

Accumulation of biologically fixed nitrogen by legumes cultivated as cover crops in Switzerland

Büchi, Lucie, Gebhard, Claude-Alain, Liebisch, Frank, Sinaj, Sokrat, Ramseier, Hans, Charles, Raphaël
Plant and soil 2015 v.393 no.1-2 pp. 163-175
Lathyrus sativus, Pisum sativum, Vicia faba, Vicia sativa, Vicia villosa, agroecosystems, biomass production, cover crops, crop rotation, field experimentation, legumes, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nitrogen fixation, soil, stable isotopes, Switzerland
AIMS: Biological nitrogen fixation by legumes is expected to play a greater role in future cropping systems. Our study evaluated 19 legume species grown as cover crops in Swiss agroecosystems. METHODS: Two field experiments were set up to monitor the biomass production and nitrogen content of 19 legumes and two non-legumes. The proportion of nitrogen derived from atmospheric N₂ (%Ndfa) was assessed using the ¹⁵N natural abundance method. In parallel, a pot experiment was set up to determine the species-specific B values necessary to apply this method. RESULTS: Some species produced an important amount of biomass in 3 months, up to 6.86 t/ha for Vicia faba. Five species, Lathyrus sativus, Pisum sativum, Vicia sativa, Vicia villosa, and V. faba, acquired more than 100 kg/ha of N through biological fixation. Important amounts of nitrogen were also derived from the soil. %Ndfa values showed high variability between and within species, ranging from 0 % to almost 100 %. CONCLUSIONS: Some legumes showed high N accumulation even in a short growing period, and could play an important role in fixing renewable nitrogen in crop rotation.