Plant and Soil

, Volume 442, Issue 1–2, pp 169–182 | Cite as

A side-by-side comparison of biological nitrogen fixation and yield of four legume crops

  • Liting Liu
  • J. Diane KnightEmail author
  • Reynald L. Lemke
  • Richard E. Farrell
Regular Article



Evaluate potential N benefit from chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.), faba bean (Vicia faba L.), lentil (Lens culinaris L.) and field pea (Pisum sativum L.). This is the first phase of a 2-year cropping sequence study quantifying above-ground and below-ground residue contributions to N uptake by subsequent crops.


The four legume crops were grown in field experiments. Biological N fixation (BNF) was quantified by 15N isotope dilution.


Faba bean fixed the most N (76%) and had the highest seed yield but because it exported >80% of N fixed to seed it had the second lowest residue N (39 kg ha−1). Chickpea and lentil fixed comparable amounts of N (62%) but had low seed yields and hence higher residue N (56 kg ha−1 and 40 kg ha−1, respectively). Field pea fixed the lowest amount of N (50%) but had the second highest seed yield and consequently the lowest residue N (24 kg ha−1).


High BNF does not reflect potential N benefit. Distribution of N to seed and residue were different among the legume crops, with chickpea and lentil being more sensitive than pea or faba bean to different climate conditions.


Pulse crops 15N isotope dilution Seed N Residue biomass Harvest index 



Major financial support for this study was provided by the Saskatchewan Pulse Crop Development Board, with additional support provided by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and the Canada-Saskatchewan Growing Forward bi-lateral agreement (through the Agriculture Development Fund), and the Western Grains Research Foundation. Technical support was provided under the umbrella of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, Strategic Research Program–Soil Biological Processes, and the Prairie Environmental Agronomy Research Laboratory (PEARL). Our sincere thanks to Myles Stocki for the 15N stable isotope analysis, and the skilled assistance of our lab and field technicians: Darin Richman, Frank Krijnen, Sharon Hankey, Mark Cooke, and Dwayne Richman, and all the staff and summer students.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4167_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


  1. Androsoff GL, Van Kessel C, Pennock DJ (1995) Landscape-scale estimates of dinitrogen fixation by Pisum sativum by nitrogen-15 natural abundance and enriched isotope dilution. Biol Fert Soils 20:33–40. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aranjuelo I, Arrese-Igor C, Molero G (2014) Nodule performance within a changing environmental context. J Plant Physiol 171:1076–1090CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Arcand MM, Knight JD, Farrell RE (2013) Estimating belowground nitrogen inputs of pea and canola and their contribution to soil inorganic N pools using N-15 labeling. Plant Soil 371:67–80. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beckie HJ, Brandt SA (1997) Nitrogen contribution of field pea in annual cropping systems .1. Nitrogen residual effect. Can J Plant Sci 77:311–322. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bordeleau LM, Prevost D (1994) Nodulation and nitrogen-fixation in extreme environments. Plant Soil 161:115–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bremer E, Rennie RJ, Rennie DA (1988) Dinitrogen fixation of lentil, field pea and fababean under dryland conditions. Can J Soil Sci 68:553–562. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brockwell J, Bottomley PJ, Thies JE (1995) Manipulation of rhizobia microflora for improving legume productivity and soil fertility - a critical assessment. Plant Soil 174:143–180.
  8. Carranca C, de Varennes A, Rolston D (1999) Biological nitrogen fixation by fababean, pea and chickpea, under field conditions, estimated by the 15N isotope dilution technique. Eur J Agron 10:49–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cowell LE, Bremer E, Van Kessel C (1989) Yield and N2 fixation of pea and lentil as affected by intercropping and N application. Can J Soil Sci 69:243–251. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cutforth HW, McGinn SM, McPhee KE, Miller PR (2007) Adaptation of pulse crops to the changing climate of the northern Great Plains. Agron J 99:1684–1699. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Denton MD, Pearce DJ, Peoples MB (2013) Nitrogen contributions from faba bean (Vicia faba L.) reliant on soil rhizobia or inoculation. Plant Soil 365:363–374. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Denton MD, Phillips LA, Peoples MB, Pearce DJ, Swan AD, Mele PM, Brockwell J (2017) Legume inoculant application methods: effects on nodulation patterns, nitrogen fixation, crop growth and yield in narrow-leaf lupin and faba bean. Plant Soil 419:25–39. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans J, O'Connor G, Turner G, Coventry D, Fettell N, Mahoney J, Armstrong E, Walsgott D (1989) N2 fixation and its value to soil N increase in lupin, field pea and other legumes in South-Eastern Australia. Aust J Agric Res 40:791–805. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. FAO (2014) FAO Statistical Yearbook 2014 Asia and the Pacific Food and Agriculture. Food and agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, BangkokGoogle Scholar
  15. Gan YT, Miller PR, Liu PH, Stevenson FC, McDonald CL (2002) Seedling emergence, pod development, and seed yields of chickpea and dry pea in a semiarid environment. Can J Plant Sci 82:531–537. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gan YT, Campbell CA, Janzen HH, Lemke RL, Basnyat P, McDonald CL (2009) Carbon input to soil from oilseed and pulse crops on the Canadian prairies. Agric Ecosyst Environ 132:290–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Habtemichial KH, Singh BR, Aune JB (2007) Wheat response to N2 fixed by faba bean (Vicia faba L.) as affected by sulfur fertilization and rhizobial inoculation in semi-arid northern Ethiopia. J Plant Nutr Soil Sc 170:412–418. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hardarson G, Danso SKA (1990) Use of 15N methodology to assess biological nitrogen fixation. In: Use of nuclear techniques in studies of soil-plant relationships; training course series, vol 2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, pp 129–159Google Scholar
  19. Hossain Z, Wang X, Hamel C, Knight JD, Morrison MJ, Gan Y (2016) Biological nitrogen fixation by pulse crops on semiarid Canadian prairies. Can J Plant Sci 97:119–131. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hungria M, Vargas MAT (2000) Environmental factors affecting N2 fixation in grain legumes in the tropics, with an emphasis on Brazil. Field Crop Res 65:151–164. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. IPCC (2013) International Panel on Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp 1535Google Scholar
  22. Ito D, Afshar RK, Chen C, Miller P, Kephart K, McVay K, Lamb P, Miller J, Bohannon B, Knox M (2016) Multienvironmental evaluation of dry pea and lentil cultivars in Montana using the AMMI model. Crop Sci 56:520–529. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jensen E, Peoples M, Boddey R, Gresshoff P, Hauggaard-Nielsen H, J.R. Alves B, Morrison M (2012) Legumes for mitigation of climate change and the provision of feedstock for biofuels and biorefineries. A review. Agron Sustain Dev 32: 329–364.
  24. Khan DF, Peoples MB, Schwenke GD, Felton WL, Chen D, Herridge DF (2003) Effects of below-ground nitrogen on N balances of field-grown fababean, chickpea, and barley. Australian J Agr Res 54:333–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. King CA, Purcell LC (2001) Soybean nodule size and relationship to nitrogen fixation response to water deficit. Crop Sci 41:1099–1107. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knight JD (2012) Frequency of field pea in rotations impacts biological nitrogen fixation. Can J Plant Sci 92:1005–1011. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kyei-Boahen S, Slinkard AE, Walley FL (2002a) Evaluation of rhizobial inoculation methods for chickpea. Agron J 94:851–859. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kyei-Boahen S, Slinkard AE, Walley FL (2002b) Time course of N2 fixation and growth of chickpea. Biol Fert Soils 35:441–447. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lemke RL, Zhong Z, Campbell CA, Zentner R (2007) Can pulse crops play a role in mitigating greenhouse gases from north American agriculture? Agron J 99:1719–1725. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lupwayi NZ, Kennedy AC (2007) Grain legumes in northern Great Plains. Agron J 99:1700–1709. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Matus A, Derksen DA, Walley FL, Loeppky HA, Van Kessel C (1997) The influence of tillage and crop rotation on nitrogen fixation in lentil and pea. Can J Plant Sci 77: 197–200.
  32. Mayer J, Buegger F, Jensen ES, Schloter M, Heβ J (2003) Estimating N rhizodeposition of grain legumes using a 15N in situ stem labelling method. Soil Biol Biochem 35:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Miller PR, McConkey BG, Clayton GW, Brandt SA, Staricka JA, Johnston AM, Lafond GP, Schatz BG, Baltensperger DD, Neill KE (2002) Pulse crop adaptation in the northern Great Plains. Agron J 94:261–272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rennie R, Dubetz S (1986) Nitrogen-15-determined nitrogen fixation in field-grown chickpea, lentil, fababean, and field pea. Agron J 78:654–660. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rice WA, Penney DC, Nyborg M (1977) Effects of soil acidity on rhizobia numbers, nodulation and nitrogen-fixation by alfalfa and red-clover. Can J Soil Sci 57:197–203. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schwenke GD, Herridge DF, Scheer C, Rowlings DW, Haigh BM, McMullen KG (2015) Soil N2O emissions under N2-fixing legumes and N-fertilised canola: a reappraisal of emissions factor calculations. Agric Ecosyst Environ 202:232–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Serraj R, Sinclair TR, Purcell LC (1999) Symbiotic N2 fixation response to drought. J Exp Bot 50:143–155. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Soon YK, Arshad MA (2004) Contribution of di-nitrogen fixation by pea to the productivity and N budget of a wheat-based cropping system. J Agr Sci 142:629–637. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Streeter JG (2003) Effects of drought on nitrogen fixation in soybean root nodules. Plant Cell Environ 26:1199–1204. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Strydhorst SM, King JR, Lopetinsky KJ, Harker KN (2008) Weed interference, pulse species, and plant density effects on rotational benefits. Weed Sci 56:249–258. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Turpin JE, Herridge DF, Robertson MJ (2002) Nitrogen fixation and soil nitrate interactions in field-grown chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and fababean (Vicia faba). Aust J Agric Res 53:599–608. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Van Kessel C (1994) Seasonal accumulation and partitioning of nitrogen by lentil. Plant Soil 164:69–76. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Walley FL, Kyei-Boahen S, Hnatowich G, Stevenson C (2005) Nitrogen and phosphorus fertility management for desi and kabuli chickpea. Can J Plant Sci 85:73–79. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Walley FL, Clayton GW, Miller PR, Carr PM, Lafond GP (2007) Nitrogen economy of pulse crop production in the northern Great Plains. Agron J 99:1710–1718. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Williams CM, King JR, Ross SM, Olson MA, Hoy CF, Lopetinsky KJ (2014) Effects of three pulse crops on subsequent barley, canola, and wheat. Agron J 106:343–350. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zahran HH (1999) Rhizobium-legume symbiosis and nitrogen fixation under severe conditions and in an arid climate. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 63:968–980PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Saskatoon Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations