Positive legacy effects of grass-legume mixture leys on phosphorus uptake and yield of maize weaken over the growing season

Yujuan He, Yixian Bi, Hongqian Yu, Yingjun Zhang, Paul C. Struik, Jingying Jing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context or problem: Soil legacy effects of plants are important in facilitating or inhibiting subsequent crop growth. However, in a pasture-crop rotation system, the impact of legume-grass mixtures and fertilization management via legacy effects on the follow-on crop growth is not clear. Objective or research question: It is important to investigate how soil effects produced by different plant mixtures and fertilization management influence the growth of subsequent crops to design a sustainable cropping system. Methods: In the field, we conditioned 144 pasture plots with different ratios of legumes (L) and grasses (G) (L:G ratios of 3:7, 4:6, 5:5, 6:4, and 7:3), and the reference monocultures and 4 levels of phosphorus fertilizer (0, 9, 18, or 27 kg P ha−1) for 5 years and sowed maize after removing the pasture to explore the legacy effects of legume-grass ley pastures on subsequent crop production. Results: Our results showed that a proportion of 30% of legumes in the legume-grass fully mixed intercropping gave the highest positive legacy effect among the mixtures on maize growth at the jointing stage (V6) and big trumpet stage (V12), and this effect was comparable with the effect of a legume monoculture for the yield and P uptake of maize. The phosphorus fertilizer treatments did not directly affect subsequent crop growth. Path analysis showed that the legacy effects of pastures depended on the growth stage of maize and gradually weakened. Soil NH4+-N and AM fungi affected phosphorus uptake of maize at the V6 stage, while at the V12 stage, only the abundance of AM fungi was associated with P uptake. No direct effect was observed at the grouting stage (R4). Conclusions: We conclude that the seeding ratio of a previous plant community has significant effects on the soil biotic and abiotic properties that impact the performance of the subsequent crop and that legacy effects weakened during maize growth. Significance: Our results reveal that the crop performance depends on legacies from previous cropping systems and their growth stage. Legacy effects on the subsequent crop were affected by previous different functional group seeding ratios, a finding that is extremely useful for practical management and design of pasture-crop rotation system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109434
JournalField Crops Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2024


  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Legacy effect
  • Legume-grass sowing ratio
  • Nutrient uptake
  • Phosphorus fertilizer
  • Plant-soil interaction


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