Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixers - Nutrient Cycles
Of the symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria, species of Rhizobium form root nodules in legumes and are the most studied nitrogen fixers and the best understood. Species of Rhizobium are most specific to particular species of legumes. The rhizobia penetrate the root hair and once inside the root, the bacteria rapidly multiply and form swollen, irregular - shaped bodies in roots of legumes. Some non-legume w6ody plants also have root nodules and fix nitrogen symbiotically.
The organisms that cause the formation of nodule and fixation of nitrogen are actinomycetes (a kind of primitive fungus). Some examples of non-legumes are species of Alnus, Elaeagnus Myrica, Araucaria, Ginkgo, and Casuarina. Unlike legumes, which are largely tropical in origin, these nitrogen fixers originate in the temperate zone. Nitrogen fixation by blue green algae or cyanobacteria may take place in free living forms or in symbiosis with fungi as in certain lichens, mosses ferns and at least one seed plant. The fronds of the small free floating aquatic fern Azolla contain small pores filled with symbiotic blue green algae Anabaena that actively fix nitrogen. For centuries this fern has played an important role in the rice fields of China. Before the rice fields are planted the water filled paddy fields are covered with the aquatic fern which fixes enough nitrogen for the crop as it matures. This practice permits rice to be grown without further addition of nitrogen fertilisers. Symbiotic nitrogen fixers are more efficient than free living ones.