Biogeography of nodulated legumes and their nitrogen-fixing symbionts

Janet I. Sprent, Julie Ardley, Euan K. James (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

214 Citations (Scopus)


In the last decade, analyses of both molecular and morphological characters, including nodulation, have led to major changes in our understanding of legume taxonomy. In parallel there has been an explosion in the number of genera and species of rhizobia known to nodulate legumes. No attempt has been made to link these two sets of data or to consider them in a biogeographical context. This review aims to do this by relating the data to the evolution of the two partners: it highlights both longitudinal and latitudinal trends and considers these in relation to the location of major land masses over geological time. Australia is identified as being a special case and latitudes north of the equator as being pivotal in the evolution of highly specialized systems in which the differentiated rhizobia effectively become ammonia factories. However, there are still many gaps to be filled before legume nodulation is sufficiently understood to be managed for the benefit of a world in which climate change is rife.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-56
Number of pages17
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Early online date17 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017


  • Ammonia factories
  • Evolution of nodulation
  • Legume flowers
  • Legume taxonomy
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Nodule morphology and structures
  • Rhizobial diversity
  • Terminally differentiated bacteroids


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