Roley, S. S., T. C. Ulbrich, and G. P. Robertson. Nitrogen fixation and resorption efficiency differences among twelve upland and lowland switchgrass cultivars. Phytobiomes (in press).
In nitrogen (N)-limited terrestrial ecosystems, plants employ various strategies to acquire and conserve N, including translocation of N in perennial tissues and stimulation of N fixation in roots and soils. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a genotypically and phenotypically diverse perennial grass with two distinct ecotypes (lowland and upland) and numerous genotypes. It grows well in low-N soils, likely because of its ability to translocate N and to associate with N-fixing microbes, but little is known about variation in these traits among cultivars or even ecotypes. We measured N translocation, N fixation potential in roots and soils, soil net N mineralization, soil net nitrification, and biomass yields in 12 switchgrass cultivars grown in a replicated block experiment in southwestern Michigan, USA. Lowland cultivars had higher yields, rates of N translocation, soil net N mineralization, and N fixation potentials on washed, non-sterile roots, while upland cultivars exhibited higher N fixation potentials in root-free soil. N resorption efficiencies averaged 53±5 [SE] % for lowland versus 29±3% for upland cultivars. Additionally, there were significant among-cultivar differences for all response variables except mineralization and nitrification, with differences likely explained by cultivar-specific physiologies and microbial communities. The ideal cultivar for biofuels is one that can maintain high yields with minimal fertilizer addition and there appear to be several cultivars that meet these criteria. In addition, results suggest substantial N cycle differences among cultivars that might be exploited by breeders to create new or improved high-yielding, N-conserving switchgrass lines.
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Switchgrass Variety Trialsback to index