Fields with no recent legume cultivation have sufficient nitrogen-fixing rhizobia for crops of faba bean (Vicia faba L.)

Marta Maluk, Francesc Ferrando-Molina, Laura Lopez del Egido, Adrian Langarica-Fuentes, Genet Gebre Yohannes, Mark W. Young, Peter Martin, Richard Gantlett, Greg Kenicer, Cathy Hawes, Graham S. Begg, Richard S. Quilliam, Geoffrey R. Squire, J. Peter W. Young, Pietro P.M. Iannetta, Euan K. James

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Purpose: (1) To assess the biological N fixation (BNF) potential of varieties of faba bean (Vicia faba L.) cropped with or without compost in an experimental field-scale rotation with no recent history of legumes, (2) to enumerate soil populations of Rhizobium leguminosarum sv. viciae (Rlv), and to genetically characterize the nodulating Rlv strains, (3) compare BNF with other sites in Britain. Methods: BNF was evaluated from 2012 to 2015 using 15 N natural abundance. Treatments were either PK fertilizer or compost. Soil rhizobial populations were determined using qPCR, the symbiotic rhizobia genotyped (16 S rRNA, nodA and nodD genes), and their BNF capacity assessed ex situ. The reliance of legumes on BNF at other British sites was estimated in a single season, and their nodulating symbionts examined. Results: Faba bean obtained most of its N through BNF (>80%) regardless of variety or year. N-accumulation by cvs Babylon and Boxer increased with compost treatment in 2014/2015. Rhizobial populations were c. 105-106Rlv cells g−1 soil regardless of field or treatment. 157 Rlv microsymbionts grouped into two large nodAD clades; one mainly from V. faba, and the other from various legumes. All isolates nodulated, and some performed better than commercial inoculant strains. Conclusions: Faba bean can provide most of its nitrogen through BNF and leave economically valuable residual N for subsequent crops. Recent legume cropping in northern Europe is not essential for effective nodulation: rhizobia may persist in a range of farmland locations. Nevertheless, there is the potential to apply elite rhizobial strains as inoculants in some soils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-368
Number of pages24
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022


  • N natural abundance
  • Green waste compost
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • nodD
  • qPCR
  • Rhizobium
  • Vicia faba L


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