Lau, J. A., M. D. Hammond, J. E. Schmidt, D. J. Weese, W. H. Yang, and K. D. Heath. 2022. Contemporary evolution rivals the effects of rhizobium presence on community and ecosystem properties in experimental mesocosms. Oecologia 200:133-142.
Because genotypes within a species commonly differ in traits that influence other species, whole communities, or even ecosystem functions, evolutionary change within one key species may affect the community and ecosystem processes. Here we use experimental mesocosms to test how the evolution of reduced cooperation in rhizobium mutualists in response to 20 years of nitrogen fertilization compares to the effects of rhizobium presence on soil nitrogen availability and plant community composition and diversity. The evolution of reduced rhizobium cooperation caused reductions in soil nitrogen, biological nitrogen fixation, and leaf nitrogen concentrations that were as strong as, or even stronger than, experimental rhizobium inoculation (presence/absence) treatments. Effects of both rhizobium evolution and rhizobium inoculation on legume dominance, plant community composition, and plant species diversity were often smaller in magnitude, but suggest that rhizobium evolution can alter the relative abundance of plant functional groups. Our findings indicate that the consequences of rapid microbial evolution for ecosystems and communities can rival the effects resulting from the presence or abundance of keystone mutualists.
Data URL: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cfxpnvx6t
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