Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 35–49 | Cite as

Nitrogen-cycling genes and rhizosphere microbial community with reduced nitrogen application in maize/soybean strip intercropping

  • Lingling Yu
  • Yiling Tang
  • Zhiguo Wang
  • Yonggang Gou
  • Jianwu WangEmail author
Original Article


Soil microbes are essential links between above- and below-ground ecosystems and play an important role in regulating ecological functions in the soil. Dynamic interactions within the soil-microbial community in a cereal-legume intercropping ecosystem influence the composition and structure of N-cycling microbial groups (e.g. nitrogen-fixing bacteria). However, these effects have not been extensively studied in some intercropping patterns or in response to varying nitrogen fertilization levels. In the present study, we evaluated the effects of reduced and conventional nitrogen application in a sweet maize (Zea may L.)/soybean (Glycine max L.) strip intercropping system under three cropping patterns over a 3-year time period. High-throughput sequencing and quantitative PCR techniques were used to investigate changes to both the microbial community structure and the expression of key nitrogen-cycling genes in the rhizosphere. Our results indicate that reduced nitrogen application affected the microbial community structure in the rhizosphere, but microbial diversity in the sweet maize rhizosphere was relatively stable. Both the abundance and activity of functional marker genes for microbial nitrogen fixation (nifH), nitrification (amoA), denitrification (nirS, nirK, nosZ), and decomposition (chiA) increased significantly from 2013 to 2016. Taken together, these data demonstrate that the quantified shifts in the soil microbial community and the observed increases in the expression of key functional genes involved in N-cycling were the result of reduced nitrogen application in this strip intercropping system. This study, therefore, provides essential insight into the potential relationships between functional nitrogen-cycling genes and mitigation of nitrogen-loss and N2O emissions in a cereal-legume strip intercropping system.


Functional N-cycling genes Reduced nitrogen application Sweet maize/soybean strip intercropping system Soil community structure 



A sincere thank you to Bernd Wollenweber for his diligent proofreading of this manuscript. And also we would like to thank Chen Xingyuan, Chen Peishou and Xie Zhengsheng for helping us to manage sweet maize cultivation in the field. We are grateful to the constructive comments from editor and two anonymous reviewers on this manuscript.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [Grant Nos. 31770556, 31600348]; the Key Technologies R&D Program of China during the 12th five-year Plan period [Grant Nos. 2012BAD14B16-04]; and the Science and Technology Development Program of Guangdong [Grant Nos. 2015B090903077].

Supplementary material

10705_2018_9960_MOESM1_ESM.docx (453 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 452 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Tropical and Subtropical EcologySouth China Agricultural UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Ministry of Agriculture Key Laboratory of Agro-Environment in the TropicsGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Agroecology and Rural Environment of Guangdong Regular Higher Education InstitutionsSouth China Agricultural UniversityGuangzhouChina

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