Schmidt, J. E., D. J. Weese, and J. A. Lau. 2017. Long-term agricultural management does not alter the evolution of a soybean-rhizobium mutualism. Ecological Applications 27:2487-2496.
Leguminous crops, like soybeans, often rely on biologically fixed nitrogen via their symbiosis with rhizobia rather than synthetic nitrogen inputs. However, agricultural management practices may influence the effectiveness of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). While the ecological effects of agricultural management on rhizobia have received some attention, the evolutionary effects have been neglected in comparison. Resource mutualism theory predicts that evolutionary effects are likely, however. Both fertilization and tillage are predicted to cause the evolution of rhizobia that provide fewer growth benefits to plant hosts and fix less nitrogen. This study capitalized on a Long-Term Ecological Research experiment that manipulated agricultural management practices in a corn-soybean-wheat row crop system for 24 yr to investigate whether four different management practices (conventional, no-till, low chemical input, and certified organic) cause rhizobia populations to evolve to become more or less cooperative. We found little evidence that 24 yr of varying management practices affect the net growth benefits rhizobia provide to soybeans, although soybean plants inoculated with soils collected from conventional treatments tended to have lower BNF rates than plants inoculated with soils from the no-till, low input, and organic management treatments. These findings suggest that rhizobia will continue to provide adequate growth benefits to leguminous crops in the future, even in intensively managed systems.
Data URL: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1h3k8
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