Nitrogen yield advantage from grass-legume mixtures is robust over a wide range of legume proportions and environmental conditions
N fertilizer replacement
Climate change mitigation
Symbiotic N2 fixation
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CitationSuter, M., Connolly, J., Finn, J.A., Loges, R., Kirwan, L., Sebastià, M.T., Lüscher, A. Nitrogen yield advantage from grass-legume mixtures is robust over a wide range of legume proportions and environmental conditions. Global Change Biology, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12880, Available online 28 January 2015
AbstractCurrent challenges to global food security require sustainable intensification of agriculture through initiatives that include more efficient use of nitrogen (N), increased protein self-sufficiency through home-grown crops, and reduced N losses to the environment. Such challenges were addressed in a continental-scale field experiment conducted over three years, in which the amount of total nitrogen yield (Ntot) and the gain of N yield in mixtures as compared to grass monocultures (Ngainmix) was quantified from four-species grass-legume stands with greatly varying legume proportions. Stands consisted of monocultures and mixtures of two N2 fixing legumes and two non-fixing grasses.The amount of Ntot of mixtures was significantly greater (P ≤ 0.05) than that of grass monocultures at the majority of evaluated sites in all three years. Ntot and thus Ngainmix increased with increasing legume proportion up to one third of legumes. With higher legume percentages, Ntot and Ngainmix did not continue to increase. Thus, across sites and years, mixtures with one third proportion of legumes attained ~95% of the maximum Ntot acquired by any stand and had 57% higher Ntot than grass monocultures.Realized legume proportion in stands and the relative N gain in mixture (Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture) were most severely impaired by minimum site temperature (R = 0.70, P = 0.003 for legume proportion; R = 0.64, P = 0.010 for Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture). Nevertheless, the relative N gain in mixture was not correlated to site productivity (P = 0.500), suggesting that, within climatic restrictions, balanced grass-legume mixtures can benefit from comparable relative gains in N yield across largely differing productivity levels.We conclude that the use of grass-legume mixtures can substantially contribute to resource-efficient agricultural grassland systems over a wide range of productivity levels, implying important savings in N fertilizers and thus greenhouse gas emissions and a considerable potential for climate change mitigation.