Effects of elevated copper levels on biological nitrogen fixation and occurrence of rhizobia in a Tanzanian coffee-cropped soil

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Sokoine University of Agriculture


A study was conducted to investigate the effects of increasing copper concentration in soil on rhizobial occurrence and the process of biological nitrogen fixation. Two slow-growing bradyrhizobial strains CP, and GM, and two fast-growing rhizobial strains PV, and PV2 were studied by comparing their performance under increasing copper concentrations in greenhouse-based assays involving modified Leonard jar assemblies and potted-soil experiments. Additionally, field samples from soils grown to coffee and subjected to long-term use of copper-based fungicides were analyzed for their total indigenous rhizobial populations using the most probable number-plant infection technique. Results indicated that elevated copper levels in the growth medium had inhibitory effects on nodulation, biological N2 fixation and overall rhizobial numbers in soil. Significant (p= 0.05%) reductions in fresh nodule mass, fresh nodule volume and total shoot nitrogen were recorded when copper concentration was increased from 0 to 100 ppm in both modified Leonard jar assemblies and potted-soil trials. Effective decrements in all the three parameters of fresh nodule mass, fresh nodule volume and total shoot nitrogen were more pronounced with the slow-growing bradyrhizobial strains of CP, and GM, than with the fast-growing PV, and PV2. The MPN-plant infection technique results showed a non-significant (p=0.05) but substantial decrement in rhizobial and bradyrhizobial numbers when the copper-contaminated field soil (82.5 mgCu/g soil) was compared to a control soil (1.8 mgCu/g soil). The study concludes, therefore, that elevated levels of copper in soil could be harmful to free-living rhizobia and their abilities to fix N2 in respective symbiotic associations with legume species. Such negative effects were more pronounced in the slow-growing bradyrhizobial than rhizobial species used.


Journal of Agricultural Science and Applications (J. Agric. Sci. Appl.)


Biological nitrogen fixation, Copper contamination, Rhizobia, WPN-plant infection technique, Tanzania