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Nitrogen (N) rhizodeposition by cowpea (Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp) is potentially a large N source in cropping systems of Sub-Saharan Africa. A field experiment was conducted to measure cowpea N rhizodeposition under the conditions of the Sudano-Sahelian zone using direct 15N labelling techniques to trace the amount of deposition and its transfer to associated and subsequent crops. Half of the total cowpea crop N was located below-ground at plant maturity, which exceeded 20 kg N ha−1 when intercropped with millet. Only 15% of the below-ground cowpea N was recovered in roots, while 85% was found in the rhizodeposited pools. The experiment demonstrated that direct below-ground N transfer occurred from cowpea to millet in intercrop at a rate of 2 kg N ha−1 over the growing season. Forty percent of the 25 kg below-ground N that the cowpea crop left at harvest were identifiable in the top 0.30 m soil in the beginning of the next planting season 7 months later; a pool still present at the end of that second season. Thus, the subsequent crop of millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.) only recovered 2.5 kg N ha−1 from the below-ground cowpea pre-crop N during this growth season. The role and potential of cowpea as N provider has been underestimated in the past by ignoring the large proportion of N contained in its rhizodeposits. However, information is needed to determine how losses of the rhizodeposited N can be minimized to fully harness the potential of cowpea as N provider in agro-ecosystems of the region.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)369-382
StatePublished - 2011
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 10


  • Environment and climate, 15N, Vigna unguiculata , Leaf labelling, Legume, Nitrogen transfer, Tracer, Roots, Cowpea, Pennisetum glaucum , N deposition
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ID: 5514614