Despite the fact that heavy metals are known to adversely affect the growth of rhizobia, these metals are often present in sludge-amended soils due to the presence of fertilizers such as manure (237) and human sewage. Sludge-applied soils are a source of heavy metals to plants and the accumulation of metals by plants or bacteria is a possible explanation for the observed negative effect of bradyrhizobia on plant growth. Plant growth is promoted when the plants and soil are colonized by a mixture of bacteria. We have therefore investigated the combination of differing numbers of rhizobia in relation to soil pH and the presence of heavy metals in soils that were amended with sewage sludge. The experiment included 2 treatments: control (no amendments or rhizobia) and rhizobia. We added increasing numbers of rhizobia (1, 5, 10, or 20%) to untreated and amended soil (soil pH 5.5, soil pH 6.5, or soil pH 7.0) and monitored the survival of the rhizobia. We observed that the numbers of rhizobia were greatest in soil that was amended with sludge and had a soil pH of 5.5. A particular rhizobium strain that had shown poor survival in the absence of amendments (soil pH 5.5) was the most fit when associated with sludge-amended soil (soil pH 6.5). A fifth treatment (soil pH 7.0) also confirmed the advantageous survival of rhizobia when associated with sludge-amended soil, even though soil pH was quite high. Both the survival and growth of legume plants were promoted when the rhizobia and sludge-amended soil pH was 5.5. However, we found that the soil pH of 5.5 (sludge-amended soil) was optimal for plant growth. Furthermore, the addition of sludge had a positive effect on plant growth. The experimental data obtained from the experiment did not correspond with the assumption that the survival of rhizobia and the growth of legume plants would be promoted when sludge-amended soils were more acidic.
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