Basyal, B., C. Foster, K. L. Gross, and S. M. Emery. 2021. Nitrogen fertilizer, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and soil nematodes affect lignin quality and quantity in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). BioEnergy Research doi: 10.1007/s12155-021-10284-2
Plant lignin content and composition, which limit cell wall digestibility and efficiency of cellulose conversion to bioethanol, can be influenced by belowground biotic and abiotic factors. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a leading lignocellulosic biofuel crop and forms strong belowground associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), is susceptible to belowground plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN), and when grown in monoculture generally requires nitrogen (N) fertilization. The main objectives of the study were to investigate the effects of N fertilizer and belowground organisms on lignin content and composition of switchgrass. Leaf, stem, and root tissues were evaluated separately to test whether these factors had varying belowground (local) or aboveground (systemic) effects on plants. These factors were manipulated in a field study in 2017 using biocide applications to reduce soil fungi and nematodes. Combined biocide application reduced p-hydroxyphenyl (H) unit abundance in the leaves by 14% and increased the syringyl:guaiacyl (S:G) ratio in stems by 2%. Application of fungicide alone increased stem syringyl (S) unit by 12.4% as compared with control plots, and 11.1% as compared with nematicide plots. Overall, fertilizer increased total stem lignin by 3%, stem S unit by 6.7%, and stem S:G ratio by 10%, whereas it reduced the amount of H-unit in the roots by 11%. While the effects of N fertilizer were more pronounced in this study, changes to soil organisms had similar magnitudes of effect for some measures of lignin, indicating that these belowground interactions may be important for growers to consider in the future.
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