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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Evidence for magnesium-phosphorus synergism and co-limitation of grain yield in wheat agriculture

Weih, Martin; Liu, Hui; Colombi, Tino; Keller, Thomas; Jack, Ortrud; Vallenback, Pernilla; Westerbergh, Anna


Modern crop production is characterized by high nitrogen (N) application rates, which can influence the co-limitation of harvested yield by other nutrients. Using a multidimensional niche volume concept and scaling exponents frequently applied in plant ecological research, we report that increased N and phosphorus (P) uptake in a growing wheat crop along with enhanced grain biomass is associated with more than proportional increase of other nutrients. Furthermore, N conversion efficiency and grain yield are strongly affected by the magnesium (Mg) to P ratio in the growing crop. We analyzed a field trial in Central Sweden including nine wheat varieties grown during two years with contrasting weather, and found evidence for Mg co-limitation at lower grain yields and P co-limitation at higher yields. We argue that critical concentrations of single nutrients, which are often applied in agronomy, should be replaced by nutrient ratios. In addition, links between plant P and Mg contents and root traits were found; high root number enhanced the P:N ratio, whilst steep root angle, indicating deep roots, increased the Mg:N ratio. The results have significant implications on the management and breeding targets of agriculturally grown wheat, which is one of the most important food crops worldwide.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2021, Volume: 11, number: 1, article number: 9012