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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Lucerne (Medicago sativa) alters N2O-reducing communities associated with cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) roots and promotes N2O production in intercropping in a greenhouse experiment

Graf, Daniel R. H.; Saghai, Aurelien; Zhao, Ming; Carlsson, Georg; Jones, Christopher M.; Hallin, Sara


Lower emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) are generally observed from intercropped compared to sole cropped systems. This could be due to better N-use efficiency, but differences in microbial communities establishing in the rhizosphere may also play a role as the only known biological sink for N2O is its reduction to nitrogen gas (N-2) by bacteria and archaea that possess the nosZ gene encoding the N2O reductase. Nitrous oxide reducing communities can be divided into two clades, I and II, and their relative abundance and diversity may have important consequences for N2O emissions. Here, we examine how intercropping with a legume (Medicago sativa, "lucerne") and a grass (Dactylis glomerata, "cocksfoot") species, compared to sole cropping of each species, affects the N2O emission potential, and the structure and abundance of root-associated N2O-reducing microbial communities. In a rhizobox experiment, we show that intercropping resulted in higher total shoot biomass compared to sole cropping. Further, N2O production rates were significantly higher in intercropped cocksfoot roots compared to sole cropping of either species. This coincided with lower abundances of nosZ Glade II communities in intercropped compared to sole cropped cocksfoot roots, suggesting that these organisms likely act as a N2O sink. Phylogenetic placement of sequencing reads placed root-associated nosZ Glade II reads close to Ignavibacteria and Opitutaceae, which harbour non-denitrifying N2O reducers with the genetic capacity to also perform dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). We observed a shift in the composition of the cocksfoot root-associated nosZI communities towards incomplete denitrifiers terminating with N2O in intercropped roots. Overall, we hypothesize that such alterations of plant-microbe and/or microbe-microbe interactions contributed to the higher potential N2O emission rate observed in intercropped cocksfoot roots. Understanding the nature of these interactions would represent an important step forward for the design of management practices that minimize N2O emissions.


Denitrification; Nitrous oxide; nosZ; Rhizosphere

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2019, Volume: 137, article number: 107547