Evaluation of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp) genotypes for adaptation to low soil-phosphorus conditions and to rock phosphate application



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Cowpea (Vigna ungiculata L. Walp) is a major food and fodder legume in poor countries, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa countries. It is generally produced in sandy, acid soils, deficient in phosphorus (P) which severely limits its production. Because processed phosphate fertilizers are expensive and poorly available to farmers, rock phosphate is viewed as a cheap alternative phosphate source. The present study evaluated 696 U.S Core Collection and IITA cowpea accessions for adaptation to low soil P environments and for response to rock phosphate application. Subsequently, organic acid exudation by selected cowpea genotypes as a mechanism for P acquisition from Fe-oxide and Ca bound P was investigated. A low P soil from Nacogdoches pine forest was used to grow plants. There were two P treatments: 0 and 300 mg P/kg of soil as Tahoua (Niger) rock phosphate. At harvest, plant height, shoot and root dry weights were determined and total biomass and shoot-to-root ratios were computed. Shoot P contents of 100 selected accessions were measured. Sixteen accessions reflecting the wide array of responses observed were selected for the organic acid study. Plants were grown in a growth chamber hydroponically with no P and +P nutrient solutions for 3 weeks. Organic acids were collected in a CaCl2-KCl solution. The nature and quantity of the collected organic acids was determined. Cowpea accessions were significantly different in their ability to adapt to Pdeficiency stress and to acquire P from rock phosphate. The parameters most effective in separating the accessions were shoot mass and total biomass. This data will be potentially useful in the selection of cowpea germplasm for (1) adaptation to West African soils of low P fertility, and (2) ability to utilize P from poorly soluble rock phosphate. The predominant organic acid exuded by cowpea roots was a tricarboxylic acid not yet identified. There was surprisingly more exudation of this acid under +P than under ?P conditions. Exudation was more highly correlated to roots than to shoots.