Ulbrich, T. C., A. Rivas-Ubach, L. K. Tiemann, M. L. Friesen, and S. E. Evans. 2022. Plant root exudates and rhizosphere bacterial communities shift with neighbor context. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 172:108753.
A plant’s neighborhood context can alter its interactions with other organisms, but little is known about how these dynamics occur belowground, especially with soil microbes. Microbial communities in rhizosphere soil are influenced by many factors, including abiotic conditions and root-derived signals. In particular, root exudates have strong effects on rhizosphere assembly, respond to changes in abiotic conditions, and help plants interact with neighbors. Therefore, we predicted that root exudates likely play a central role in neighbor-induced shifts in rhizosphere communities. We conducted a greenhouse experiment to test this and determine how the rhizosphere bacterial community of a focal plant, Panicum virgatum, changed when beside different neighbors, and whether these shifts were mediated by neighbor-induced changes in root exudation. We found that neighbor altered both focal plant exudates and rhizosphere community, and that changes were largest when the focal plant was beside the most competitive neighbor, Rudbeckia hirta, which reduced both focal plant growth and nitrogen uptake. Several factors contributed to neighbor impacts on rhizosphere assembly, including neighbor-induced changes in root exudates during nitrogen-limitation and microbial spillover from roots of larger neighbors. Using an additional soil incubation, we also found that these changes in exudates can have even greater effects on soil nutrients than on microbial assembly. Overall, we show that neighbors influence one another’s microbiomes, and highlight neighbor-induced changes in root exudates as one mechanism through which this may occur. This work suggests that rhizosphere assembly may differ in mixed-species communities and thus emphasizes a need for microbiome studies that consider neighborhood context.
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