Updated: Jul 24
Soil microbes play a vital role in soil fertility by:
Nitrogen fixation: Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, but it is not always available in a form that plants can use. Nitrogen-fixing microbes, such as Rhizobium, can convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which plants can then use.
Phosphorus mineralization: Phosphorus is another important nutrient for plant growth, but it is often bound up in organic matter and unavailable to plants. Phosphorus-mineralizing microbes break down organic matter and release phosphorus in a form that plants can use.
Decomposition of organic matter: Microbes decompose organic matter, such as plant residues and animal manure, and release nutrients that can be used by plants. This process also helps to improve the physical properties of the soil, such as its water-holding capacity and its ability to retain nutrients.
Production of plant growth-promoting substances: Many microbes produce plant growth-promoting substances, such as hormones and antibiotics. These substances can help to improve plant health and growth.
Competition with plant pathogens: Beneficial microbes compete with plant pathogens for nutrients and space. This helps to protect plants from disease.
In addition to these specific functions, soil microbes also play a vital role in the overall health of the soil ecosystem. They help to maintain the balance of soil organisms, which is essential for the long-term productivity of the soil.
Overall, soil microbes are essential for maintaining soil fertility and supporting plant growth. By performing a variety of functions, they help to ensure that the soil is a healthy and productive environment for plants.
Here are some specific examples of how microbes alter soil fertility:
Rhizobium bacteria: These bacteria form symbiotic relationships with legume plants, such as soybeans and peas. The bacteria fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which the plants can then use. This process can increase the nitrogen content of the soil by up to 200%.
Mycorrhizal fungi: These fungi form symbiotic relationships with the roots of many different types of plants. The fungi help the plants to absorb nutrients from the soil, and the plants provide the fungi with sugars. This relationship can significantly improve the growth and productivity of plants.
Azotobacter bacteria: These bacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, even in the absence of a plant host. This makes them a valuable tool for improving soil fertility in areas where legumes are not grown.
The use of microbial inoculants to improve soil fertility is a growing area of research. These inoculants contain beneficial microbes that can be added to the soil to improve the overall health of the soil ecosystem. This can lead to increased plant growth and productivity, as well as improved soil health.