Contrasting effects of cover crops on ‘hot spot’ arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal communities in organic tomato
Njeru, E. M.
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Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) communities are fundamental in organic cropping systems where they provide essential agro-ecosystem services, improving soil fertility and sustaining crop production. They are affected by agronomic practices, but still, scanty information is available about the role of specific crops, crop rotations and the use of winter cover crops on the AMF community compositions at the field sites. A field experiment was conducted to elucidate the role of diversified cover crops and AMF inoculation on AMF diversity in organic tomato. Tomato, pre-inoculated at nursery with two AMF isolates, was grown following four cover crop treatments: Indian mustard, hairy vetch, a mixture of seven species and a fallow. Tomato root colonization at flowering was more affected by AMF pre-transplant inoculation than by the cover crop treatments. An enormous species richness was found by morphological spore identification: 58 AMF species belonging to 14 genera, with 46 and 53 species retrieved at the end of cover crop cycle and at tomato harvest, respectively. At both sampling times, AMF spore abundance was highest in hairy vetch, but after tomato harvest, AMF species richness and diversity were lower in hairy vetch than in the cover crop mixture and in the mustard treatments. A higher AMF diversity was found at tomato harvest, compared with the end of the cover crop cycle, independent of the cover crop and pre-transplant AMF inoculation. Our findings suggest that seasonal and environmental factors play a major role on AMF abundance and diversity than short-term agronomic practices, including AMF inoculation. The huge AMF diversity is explained by the field history and the Mediterranean environment, where species characteristic of temperate and sub-tropical climates co-occur.