Prior studies have established that phosphorus absorption by maize from undisturbed soil is greater than from soil which has been disturbed since the previous period of growth. Those experiments were conducted under controlled conditions and with only two disturbance treatments, namely disturbance of the soil by hand sufficient that it will pass a 5 mm sieve, and no disturbance at all. We present here two experiments in which additional treatments of intermediate degrees of disturbance are included.
In a growth chamber experiment, cutting the soil into 1, 2 or 4 cm cubes reduced the phosphorus absorption and shoot dry matter, but the reduction was not as great as that after hand disturbance of the soil. In a field experiment, the phosphorus absorption and shoot dry matter found in a conventional tillage and no-till treatments were less than in hand-planted no-till plots, but greater than with severe soil disturbance. In both experiments increases in shoot dry mass and shoot phosphorus concentration in the less disturbed treatments were not accompanied by an increase in mycorrhizal colonization. This is inconsistent with earlier studies in which colonization was greater in undisturbed soil.
Since it has now been demonstrated that increased colonization is not a necessary component in the process whereby lack of disturbance results in improved plant performance, the role of mycorrhizas in this effect should be reconsidered. If mycorrhizas are important in this respect then this can only be by means of changes in the external mycelium. However, without experimental confirmation this interpretation is speculative.