• Rhizobium leguminosarum;
  • Crop management;
  • Maize;
  • Wheat;
  • Diversity


Little is known about factors that affect the indigenous populations of rhizobia in soils. We compared the abundance, diversity and genetic structure of Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viciae populations in soils under different crop managements, i.e., wheat and maize monocultures, crop rotation, and permanent grassland. Rhizobial populations were sampled from nodules of pea- or vetch plants grown in soils collected at three geographically distant sites in France, each site comprising a plot under long-term maize monoculture. Molecular characterization of isolates was performed by PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphism of 16S–23S rDNA intergenic spacer as a neutral marker of the genomic background, and PCR-restriction fragment length 0polymorphism of a nodulation gene region, nodD, as a marker of the symbiotic function. The diversity, estimated by richness in types and Simpson's index, was consistently and remarkably lower in soils under maize monoculture than under the other soil managements at the three sites, except for the permanent grassland. The highest level of diversity was found under wheat monoculture. Nucleotide sequences of the main rDNA intergenic spacer types were determined and sequence analysis showed that the prevalent genotypes in the three maize fields were closely related. These results suggest that long-term maize monoculturing decreased the diversity of R. leguminosarum biovar viciae populations and favored a specific subgroup of genotypes, but the size of these populations was generally preserved. We also observed a shift in the distribution of the symbiotic genotypes within the populations under maize monoculture, but the diversity of the symbiotic genotypes was less affected than that of IGS types. The possible effect of such changes on biological nitrogen fixation remains unknown and this requires further investigation.