Conservation agriculture (CA) and integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices are receiving increased attention as pathways to sustainable high-production agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. However, little is known about the effects of these practices on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). The study aimed at understanding the long-term effects of (i) ISFM and CA on AMF communities and functioning, and on glomalin concentrations. The study also aimed at understanding the (ii) role of AMF in soil aggregation, plant nutrition and crop yield under field conditions and (iii) combined effect of AMF and earthworms on soil aggregation, plant nutrition and crop yield under greenhouse conditions.
The study aimed at understanding the long-term effects of (ISFM and CA on AMF communities and functioning, and on glomalin concentrations. The study also aimed at understanding the role of AMF in soil aggregation, plant nutrition and crop yield under field conditions and combined effect of AMF and earthworms on soil aggregation, plant nutrition and crop yield under greenhouse conditions.
The study was conducted in two long-term field trials. The ISFM trial was in Kabete (central Kenya) and compared fertilization (nitrogen and phosphorus) and organic amendments (farmyard manure, crop residue) for 32 years, while the CA trial was in Nyabeda (western Kenya) and compared effect of tillage (conventional versus no-tillage), residue application, cropping system (monocropping versus rotation) and N-fertilization for 5 years.
Long-term use of mineral fertilizer and organic amendments, as well as tillage and N fertilization altered AMF species composition, but the changes were relatively minor. Organic amendments alone or in combination with NP fertilization increased AMF incidence, whereas no-tillage in the presence of residue increased spore abundance and root colonization.
N fertilization increased root colonization but had a negative effect on spore abundance and species richness. Crop rotation had no effect on AMF. Glomalin was also sensitive to management, but the response was site-specific. Glomalin responded more to CA in Nyabeda than ISFM in Kabete. N fertilization and residue increased glomalin, especially under conventional tillage.
Path analysis indicated that AMF symbiosis and glomalin enhanced soil aggregation and crop nutrition and yield in both sites. The positive role of AMF on crop nutrition was stronger in Kabete than Nyabeda. However, yield and nutrient use efficiency were (very) low in Kabete. There was no interaction between AMF and earthworms on soil aggregation, but AMF enhanced soil aggregation. AMF interacted positively with the epigeic earthworm to enhance nutrient uptake and biomass production, but the endogeic earthworm negatively affected AMF symbiosis and function.
This project highlights the potential of ISFM and CA practices in enhancing AMF diversity and activity, and indicates factors limiting AMF functioning under ISFM and CA systems. While AMF are important for agro-ecosystem functioning, remedying the non-responsive character of soils, especially Kabete, through judicious management of nitrogen and organic amendments remains a first priority.