We conducted a field experiment within a low-input reduced tillage trial to determine how a cover crop affects inoculum levels of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal (VAM) fungi. Plots with and without the hairy vetch cover crop were established on September 30, 1993, under moldboard plow (MP), chisel-disk (CD), and no-till (NT) treatments in low-input (LI) management, and MP in conventional (CONV) management. We conducted a 3-week colonization assay in the greenhouse with bahiagrass seedlings to assess the relative colonization potential of the soils in the fall and following spring. Hairy vetch roots were colonized by indigenous VAM fungi by 65 days after planting, with plants from NT being more colonized than plants from MP or CD plots. Spore populations were greater in the LI than in the CONV system. The beneficial effect of the cover crop on VAM spore populations in soil was manifested in the spring, with the Glomus type group more abundant in plots with cover than without it. The greenhouse bioassay showed that colonization potential of spring 1994 soil samples was higher in plots with cover than without cover for both the LI and CONV systems. Just one season of an overwintering cover crop of hairy vetch increased the inoculum of VAM fungi the following spring before the next cash crop was planted.
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