Ulbrich, T. C., M. Friesen, S. S. Roley, L. K. Tiemann, and S. E. Evans. 2021. Intraspecific variability in root traits and edaphic conditions influence soil microbiomes across 12 switchgrass cultivars. Phytobiomes 5:108-120.
Microbial communities help plants access nutrients and tolerate stress. Some microbiomes are specific to plant genotypes and, therefore, may contribute to intraspecific differences in plant growth and be a promising target for plant breeding. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a potential bioenergy crop with broad variation in yields and environmental responses; recent studies suggest that associations with distinct microbiomes may contribute to variation in cultivar yields. We used a common garden experiment to investigate variation in 12 mature switchgrass cultivar soil microbiomes and, further, to examine how root traits and soil conditions influence microbiome structure. We found that average root diameter varied up to 33% among cultivars and that they associated with distinct soil microbiomes. Cultivar had a larger effect on the soil bacterial than fungal community, but both were strongly influenced by soil properties. Root traits had a weaker effect on microbiome structure, but root length contributed to variation in the fungal community. Unlike the soil communities, the root bacterial communities did not group by cultivar, based on a subset of samples. Microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen and the abundance of several dominant bacterial phyla varied between ecotypes, but overall the differences in soil microbiomes were greater among cultivars than between ecotypes. Our findings show that there is not one soil microbiome that applies to all switchgrass cultivars, or even to each ecotype. These subtle but significant differences in root traits, microbial biomass, and the abundance of certain soil bacteria could explain differences in cultivar yields and environmental responses.
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