Smercina, D. N., S. E. Evans, M. L. Friesen, and L. K. Tiemann. 2020. Impacts of nitrogen addition on switchgrass root-associated diazotrophic community structure and function. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 5:88-96.
Cellulosic bioenergy crops, like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), have potential for growth on lands unsuitable for food production coupled with potential for climate mitigation. Sustainability of these systems lies in identifying conditions that promote high biomass yields on marginal lands under low-input agricultural practices. Associative nitrogen fixation (ANF) is a potentially important nitrogen (N) source for these crops, yet ANF contributions to plant N, especially under fertilizer N addition are unclear. In this study, we assess structure (nifH) and function (ANF) of switchgrass root-associated diazotrophic communities to long-term and short-term N additions using soil from three marginal land sites. ANF rates were variable and often unexpectedly high, sometimes 10× greater than reported in the literature, and did not respond in repeatable ways to long-term or short-term N. We found few impacts of N addition on root-associated diazotrophic community structure or membership. Instead, we found a very consistent root-associated diazotrophic community even though switchgrass seeds were germinated in soil from field sites with distinct diazotrophic communities. Ultimately, this work demonstrates that root-associated diazotrophic communities have the potential to contribute to switchgrass N demands, independent of N addition, and this may be driven by selection of the diazotrophic community by switchgrass roots.
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