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Two perennial legumes (Astragalus adsurgens Pall. and Lespedeza davurica S.) adapted to semiarid environments are not as productive as lucerne (Medicago sativa L.), but use less water

Authors

  • X.-K. Guan,

    1. MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
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  • X.-H. Zhang,

    1. College of Urban and Environment Sciences, Shanxi Normal University, Linfen, Shanxi, China
    2. State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yangling, Shaanxi, China
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  • N. C. Turner,

    1. MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
    2. The UWA Institute of Agriculture and Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia
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  • B.-C. Xu,

    1. State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yangling, Shaanxi, China
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  • F.-M. Li

    Corresponding author
    1. State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yangling, Shaanxi, China
    2. The UWA Institute of Agriculture and Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia
    • MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, China
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Correspondence to: F.-M. Li, MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730000, China.

E-mail: fmli@lzu.edu.cn

Abstract

Perennial forage legumes, particularly lucerne (Medicago sativa L.), play a significant role in crop/livestock mixed farming systems in the semiarid region of the Loess Plateau of China as stock feed and a source of nitrogen for subsequent crops. However, there is evidence that lucerne reduces soil water deep in the soil profile, thereby reducing subsequent crop productivity. From 2004 to 2010, this study evaluated the forage productivity and water use of two locally adapted perennial legume species, milk vetch (Astragalus adsurgens Pall.) and bush clover (Lespedeza davurica S.), compared with lucerne. The 7-year total and average annual forage yield of milk vetch were 56 and 8 t ha−1 and bush clover was 42 and 6 t ha−1, respectively, significantly lower than lucerne at 91 and 13 t ha−1. However, despite lower water-use efficiencies (16 and 12 kg ha−1 mm−1 for milk vetch and bush clover, respectively, compared to 22 kg ha−1 mm−1 for lucerne), the total 7-year water use in milk vetch and bush clover was 3500 mm and 3490 mm, respectively, which was 135–140 mm less than lucerne. After 7 years, lucerne had extracted water from the upper 5 m soil, whereas bush clover used water mainly from the upper 2 m of the soil profile and milk vetch still had some water available below 3 m. We conclude that while the locally adapted forage legumes were not as productive as lucerne as a source of fodder in mixed cropping/livestock system in this region, they use less water, which may be advantageous in drier regions.

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