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Intercropping promotes the ability of durum wheat and chickpea to increase rhizosphere phosphorus availability in a low P soil

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.11.015
  • Facilitation
  • Intercropping
  • Rhizosphere
  • P Availability
  • Soil Ph
  • Alkalization


Abstract Cereal–legume intercropping can promote plant growth (i.e. facilitation) through an increase in the amount of phosphorus (P) taken up, especially in low P soils. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that these positive interactions are supported by rhizosphere processes that increase P availability, such as root-induced pH changes. In neutral and alkaline soils legumes are assumed to increase inorganic P availability by rhizosphere acidification due to N 2 fixation which benefit to the intercropped cereal. Growth, P uptake, changes in inorganic P availability and pH in the rhizosphere of intercropped species were thus investigated in a greenhouse pot experiment with durum wheat and chickpea either grown alone or intercropped. We used a neutral soil from a P fertilizer long-term field trial exhibiting either low (−P) or high (+P) P availability. Phosphorus availability was increased in the rhizosphere of both species, especially when intercropped in −P. Such increase was associated with alkalization. Rhizosphere pH changes could not fully explain the observed changes of P availability though. Low rates of N 2 fixation may explain why no rhizosphere acidification was observed. Increases in P availability did not lead to enhanced P uptake but growth promotion was observed for durum wheat intercropped with chickpea in −P soil. Our hypothesis of an increase in inorganic P availability in intercropping as a consequence of root-induced acidification by the legume was not validated, and we suggested that root-induced alkalization was involved instead, as well as other root-induced processes. Thus, the cereal through rhizosphere alkalization may also enhance P uptake and growth of the intercropped legume. Facilitation can thus occur in both ways.

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