Nitrogen (N) fixation is essential in the development of sustainable agriculture, but nodulation of legumes is usually inhibited by N fertilization. In this study, we evaluated the increased density of intercropped maize (Zea mays L.) as a means to alleviate the inhibitory effect of soil mineral N on intercropped pea (Pisum sativum L.) and improve system performance. A field experiment was conducted in the Hexi Corridor region of northwestern China from 2012 to 2014. The experiment consisted of monoculture pea, monoculture maize, and a pea/maize strip-intercropping system. Two levels of N fertilization were evaluated in both cropping systems during the co-growth period of intercropping, i.e., 0 kg N ha−1 (N0) and 135 kg N ha−1 (N1), and three maize densities were evaluated with both levels of N fertilization in the intercropping system, i.e., 45,000 plants ha−1 (D1), 52,500 plants ha−1 (D2), and 60,000 plants ha−1 (D3). The application of N reduced the number of nodules of intercropped pea by 135% at D1 and by 9% at D2 compared to no application of N, in all the years examined. The alleviation of the inhibitory effect of soil mineral N on the nodulation of intercropped pea (Cis) was calculated as the percentage increase in nodulation with intercropping relative to monoculture for a given level of N fertilization. With the application of N, Cis was improved by increased intercropped maize density (D3 > D2 > D1) at all stages. The internal efficiency of nitrogen (IEN) of pea was improved with intercropping and, on average, was 19% and 12% greater at D3 than at D1 and D2, respectively. These results demonstrate that increased maize density can alleviate the inhibitory effect of soil N on the nodulation of pea and sustain the productivity of maize/pea intercropping while reducing N fertilizer requirements in arid regions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31860363).
Acknowledgments: This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31860363), the Natural Science Foundation of Gansu Province (17JR5RA157), the Research Program Sponsored by Gansu Provincial Key Laboratory of Aridland Crop Science, Gansu Agricultural University (GSCS-2016-05), and the China Agriculture Research System (CARS-22-G-12).
© 2020 by the authors
- Maize/pea intercropping
- Nitrogen use efficiency
- Plant density
- Root nodules