Increasing biological nitrogen fixation by white clover-rhizobia symbiosis
Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is the process of converting atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia through legume–rhizobia symbiosis. The nitrogen fixed by rhizobia in root nodules is available for plant use. This process can be harnessed to improve N fertility on farm. Field surveys across New Zealand (NZ), within a farm and within paddocks, have revealed large spatial variability of rhizobial population size and symbiotic effectiveness with white clover. These results indicate that naturalised rhizobia may not be supporting optimal BNF. Over 500 strains of clover-nodulating rhizobia were isolated from NZ pasture soils, with more than 90 demonstrating greater N-fixation capacity with white clover than the commercial inoculant strain TA1. Seven NZ isolates were tested for nodule occupancy and all seven had significantly higher occupancy rates than TA1 in an in vitro assay, indicating increased competitiveness of those strains. In addition, novel seed-coating technology improved the survival of TA1 and isolate S10N9 from 1 month to more than 4 months compared with a standard coating formulation. There is potential to increase the symbiotic capacity of white clover in pastures through use of more effective and competitive rhizobial strains, along with their improved survival on seed provided by a new coating technology.
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