Low N fertilizer application and intercropping increases n concentration in pea (pisum sativum l.) grains

Falong Hu, Yan Tan, Aizhong Yu, Cai Zhao, Jeffrey A. Coulter, Zhilong Fan, Wen Yin, Hong Fan, Qiang Chai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Sustainable intensification of pulses needs reduced input of nitrogen (N) fertilizer with enhanced crop nutritional quality and yield. Therefore, increasing N harvest in grains (sink organs) by improving N remobilization is of key importance. Previous research has shown that a lower dose of N fertilizer effectively increases the rate of N remobilization, while intercropping improves the grain N concentration in pea (Pisum sativum L.). However, it is unknown whether intercropping can facilitate this N fertilizer effect to increase N remobilization, and thereby enhance the N harvest index (NHI). In this study, we determined N allocation among different organs of pea plants, N translocation from leaf and stem tissues to pods, N2 fixation, N utilization efficiency, and NHI of pea plants grown alone or intercropped with maize (Zea mays L.) with different N fertilization treatments in a field experiment in northwestern China from 2012 to 2014. A base application of 90 kg N ha−1 at sowing and top-dress application of 45 kg N ha−1 at flowering integrated with maize–pea intercropping increased N allocation to pod tissues, N translocation to grains, and NHI of pea plants. Compared with the application of 90 kg N ha−1 at sowing and 135 kg N ha−1 top-dressed at flowering, reducing the top-dress application of N fertilizer to 45 kg N ha−1 increased N allocation to intercropped pea plants by 8%. Similarly, N translocation to grains from leaf and stem tissues was increased by 37.9 and 43.2%, respectively, enhancing the NHI by 40.1%. A positive correlation between N2 fixation and NHI was observed, implying that N2 fixation improves N concentration in grain sinks. Thus, our data show that growing pulses in an intercropping system with reduced N fertilization are essential for maximizing N translocation, improving nutritional quality, and preventing the loss of N through leaching, thereby avoiding potential groundwater contamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1763
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for research funding provided by the Special Funds for Discipline Construction of Gansu Agricultural University (NO. GAU-XKJS-2018-087), the China Agricultural Research System (NO. CARS-22-G-12), the National Natural Science Fund of China (NO. 31771738 and 31160265), and the Special Fund for Talents of Gansu Agricultural University (NO. 2017RCZX-03).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Hu, Tan, Yu, Zhao, Coulter, Fan, Yin, Fan and Chai.


  • Intercropping
  • N fertilizer management
  • N translocation
  • Nitrogen harvest index
  • Pea


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