Plant Secondary Metabolites in Alfalfa, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Reed Canarygrass, and Tall Fescue Unaffected by two Different Nitrogen Sources

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Crop Science






Crop Science Society of America

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Plant secondary metabolites (PSM) may increase the sustainability of agriculture systems by reducing inputs, as PSM protect plants against herbivores and pathogens, act as pesticides, insecticides, and anthelmintics while also attracting pollinators and seed dispersers. Therefore, it is important to understand what affects PSM fluctuation in plant tissues. Limited research has investigated how different nitrogen (N) sources affect PSM concentration in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L., Alf), birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L., BFT), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea L., RCG), and endophyte-infected tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb., E+TF). We investigated how fecal manure (feces) and synthetic N fertilizer (urea, 46% H2NCONH2) influence N concentrations and the PSM ergovaline, gramine, saponins, and extractable condensed tannins (CT) in E+TF, RCG, Alf, and BFT, respectively. Ergovaline, saponins, and CT were not affected by fertilization. Gramine tended (P = 0.06) to be greater in control plots than in fertilized plots. Total N in E+TF and RCG was greater (P < 0.05) and tended to be greater for Alf (P = 0.08) in synthetically fertilized plots than in unfertilized plots. Seasonal variation in PSM and N was significant (P < 0.003) across all species and was species specific. Total N in E+TF was greatest in June (41.4 g kg−1), while ergovaline contents were at the lowest values recorded (117.2 μg kg−1), with subsequent increases to the greatest ergovaline values observed in July (680.0 μg kg−1). Our results reveal the variability in PSM production by plants and highlight the complexities of predicting fluctuations of PSM in forages. As environments where plants grow vary through space and time, we recommend studies on a case-by-case basis, depending on land management objectives.

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