First evidence for a major cover crop effect on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and organic maize growth
Mugendi, Njeru E.
MetadataShow full item record
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are increasingly used in organic cropping systems to increase yields. Although cover crops are largely used in organic farming, there is little knowledge on the impact of cover crops on native mycorrhizal fungi. Here, we studied the effect of cover crop diversity on mycorrhizal colonization in subsequent organic maize cultivars differing in the level of genetic diversity. Experiments were conducted from 2010 to 2012 in a Mediterranean environment. First Indian mustard (Brassica juncea L. Czern.), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), a mix of seven cover crop species (Mix), and natural vegetation (Control) were cultivated as winter cover crops. Then, an organically and a conventionally bred maize hybrid and three organically bred composite cross populations were cultivated. Mycorrhizal propagule dynamics were measured. Results at juvenile stage show a higher mycorrhizal colonization in maize plants grown after hairy vetch, of 35.0 %, and Mix cover crops, of 29.4 %, compared to Indian mustard, of 20.9 %, and Control, of 21.3 %. The potential of soil mycorrhization decreased of 56.5 % following Indian mustard, higher than that of other cover crops, of 34.1–47.3 %. This finding could be explained by the release of isothiocyanates in soils. Moreover, maize shoot biomass, nitrogen, and phosphorus content across all maize genotypes at juvenile stage increased with mycorrhizal colonization. These findings provide the first evidence of the greater role played by cover crop identity in the enhancement of early mycorrhizal colonization of the subsequent crop and of soil mycorrhizal activity.