Biological nitrogen fixation in a grazed perennial grass/clover ley and correlation with herbage and soil variables

Elly Møller Hansen, Henning Høgh Jensen, Jørgen Djurhuus

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In a grazed grass/clover pasture, biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is a source of nitrogen (N). The determination of this N input and how it is influenced by N, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the soil, is complicated by grazing animals, which cause variation in defoliation and soil mineral content in both space and time. In a perennial grass/clover ley on a commercial Danish organic farm, exclusively grazed by dairy cows, we investigated BNF, clover proportion of the herbage, accumulated dry matter of clover and N, P and K concentrations in separates of clover and grass in relation to inorganic concentrations of N, P and K in the soil. The N-15 natural abundance technique was used to determine the proportion of clover N derived from the atmosphere (pNdfa) using grass as a non-fixing reference. In September 1997, soil and biomass sampling was carried out on 81 randomly selected plots. The value of pNdfa was on average 0.6, ranging from 0.12 to 0.96 and BNF exhibited a significant but weak correlation (r = 0.432) with accumulation of dry matter in clover. For the significant correlations, r varied between -0.403 and 0.648. The proportion of clover in the sampled herbage averaged 48%, ranging between 18 and 78%, but varied independently of BNF. Due to a high concentration of P and moderate to high concentration of K in the soil, clover and grass were well supplied with P and K, which was confirmed by the concentrations of K and P in shoot material.

(C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)309-320
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Spatial variation
  • Pasture
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus


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