Longley, R. 2022. Impact of agricultural management and microbial inoculation on soybean (Glycine max) and its associated microbiome. Dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing MI.
Soybean (Glycine max) is a globally important crop with uses as food, cooking oil livestock feed, and biodiesel. Soybean can be considered holobionts because they host diverse microbiomes which extend plant genotypes and phenotypes through various microbial functions such as nitrogen fixation and increased disease resistance. My research focused on assessing the impact of three agricultural management strategies on the soybean holobiont.
Soybean cropping systems can be managed using various strategies, including conventional tillage, no-till, and organic management regimes. These management systems have been shown to impact the microbiomes of soybean-associated soils, however, their impacts on plant-associated microbiomes are still not well understood. In this study, I assessed the impact of conventional, no-till, and organic management treatments on soybean microbiomes at Michigan State’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research site (KBS LTER). I found that management impacted microbiome composition and diversity in soil, roots, stems, and leaves and that this impact persisted throughout the season. Additionally, when comparing the same soybean genotype grown in conventional and no-till management systems, tillage regime impacted the microbiome throughout the plant and the growing season. This effect impacted microbial taxa which are likely to be plant beneficial, including nitrogen fixing Bradyrhizobium.
Another important management tool that is expected to impact plant-associated microbial communities is the application of foliar fungicides. While fungicides are known to protect plants from particular fungal pathogens, non-target impacts of fungicides on crop microbiomes, and the impact of management on microbiome recovery are not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, I assessed the impact of foliar fungicide application on the maize (Headline® fungicide, 2017) and soybean (Delaro® fungicide, 2018) microbiomes in conventional and no-till plots at the KBS LTER. I found that fungicide applications have a non-target impact on Tremellomycete yeasts in the phyllosphere and this impact was greater in soybean than maize. Co-occurrence network analysis and random forest modelling indicated that changes in fungal communities may lead to indirect impacts on prokaryotic communities in the phyllosphere. Importantly, this work demonstrated that phyllosphere communities of soybeans under no-till management had greater recovery from fungicide disturbance. This novel finding exemplifies how tillage regime can impact phyllosphere microbiomes and their responses to disturbance.
Microbial inoculants in agriculture have long been used for biocontrol of pathogens, but there is also interest in their use to dampen the impacts of abiotic stress including drought. In this study, I tested whether inoculating soybeans with hub taxa identified through network analysis from no-till soybean root microbiome data from the KBS LTER could provide protection against water limitation. Soybean seedlings were enriched in consortia of hub bacteria and fungi and were grown in no-till field soil. Seedlings were then exposed to low-moisture stress, and plant phenotypes, plant gene expression, and amplicon sequencing of microbial DNA and cDNA were assessed throughout the stress period. Inoculation increased plant growth, nodule numbers, and led to increased expression of nodulation-associated genes. 16S sequencing of cDNA revealed higher levels Bradyrhizobium in inoculated samples. These results indicate that inoculation with hub microbes can benefit soybean plants, possibly through interaction with other microbes, interaction with the plant, or both. In summary, fungicide, tillage, and inoculation all impact the soybean microbiome, indicating that management choices impact the entire holobiont.
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