The potential of the N2-fixing cyanophyteNostoc muscorum for improving the aggregate stability of a poorly structured silt loam soil was studied in a greenhouse experiment. Inoculum rates were 1.61×105 cells g-1 soil dry weight (low rate) and 4.04×105 cell g-1 soil dry weight (high rate), approximately equivalent to a field application of 2 and 5 kg ha-1 cells dry weight, respectively.N. muscorum numbers had increased 8-fold (low rate) and 10-fold (high rate) by 300 days after inoculation, indicating not only survival but proliferation. Increases in soil polysaccharides, determined as soil carbohydrate C, were 2.96–3.49 time the values in the non-inoculated soils and aggregate stability had incrased by an average of 18% on day 300. Inoculation withN. muscorum also had a pronounced effect on soil chemical and biological properties, with total C increasing by 50–63% and total N increasing by 111–120%. Increases in the soil indigenous microbial population were recorded, with numbers of bacteria 500, fungi 16, and actinomycetes 48 times the non-inoculated values on day 300 in the high-rate soil. The emergence of lettuce seedlings (Lactuca sativa var. Saladin) in undisturbed inoculated 300-day soils was 56% (low rate) and 52% (high rate) higher than in non-inoculated soils. However, homogenising soils and irrigating (to smulate ploughing and surface crusting) significantly reduced this increase in both treatments, although emergence in inoculated soils was still greater by 45% (low) and 24% (high). It is recommended that inoculated soils be left undisturbed prior to planting. The effects ofN. muscorum on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties indicate the possible benefits of cyanobacteria as soil inoculants, not only for the improvement of soil aggregate stability but also as a means of improving seedling emergence.
Biology and Fertility of Soils / Vol. 18, No. 3, pp.209-215