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Nitrogen fixation and transfer in grass-clover leys under organic and conventional cropping systems

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 08:17 authored by Astrid Oberson, Emmanuel Frossard, Cornelia BuehlmannCornelia Buehlmann, Jochen Mayer, Paul Maeder, Andreas Luescher
Background and aim Symbiotic dinitrogen (N2) fixation is the most important external N source in organic systems. Our objective was to compare symbiotic N2 fixation of clover grown in organically and conventionally cropped grass-clover leys, while taking into account nutrient supply gradients. Methods We studied leys of a 30-year-old field experiment over 2 years in order to compare organic and conventional systems at two fertilization levels. Using 15N natural abundance methods, we determined the proportion of N derived from the atmosphere (PNdfa), the amount of Ndfa (ANdfa), and the transfer of clover N to grasses for both red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.). Results In all treatments and both years, PNdfa was high (83 to 91 %), indicating that the N2 fixation process is not constrained, even not in the strongly nutrient deficient non-fertilized control treatment. Annual ANdfa in harvested clover biomass ranged from 6 to 16 g?N m-2. At typical fertilizer input levels, lower sward yield in organic than those in conventional treatments had no effect on ANdfa because of organic treatments had greater clover proportions. In two-year-old leys, on average, 51 % of N taken up by grasses was transferred from clover. Conclusion Both, organically and conventionally cropped grass-clover leys profited from symbiotic N2 fixation, with high PNdfa, and important transfer of clover N to grasses, provided sufficient potassium- and phosphorus-availability to sustain clover biomass production.


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  • Published


Plant and Soil




Springer Verlag





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Department affiliated with

  • Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Insect Navigation Research Group Publications

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