Bolin, L. G., J. T. Lennon, and J. A. Lau. 2023. Traits of soil bacteria predict plant responses to soil moisture. Ecology 104:e3893.

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Microorganisms can help plants and animals contend with abiotic stressors, but why they provide such benefits remains unclear. Here we investigated byproduct benefits, which occur when traits that increase the fitness of one species provide incidental benefits to another species with no direct cost to the provider. In a greenhouse experiment, microbial traits predicted plant responses to soil moisture such that bacteria with self-beneficial traits in drought increased plant early growth, size at reproduction, and chlorophyll concentration under drought, while bacteria with self-beneficial traits in well-watered environments increased these same plant traits in well-watered soils. Thus, microbial traits that promote microbial success in different moisture environments also promote plant success in these same environments. Our results demonstrate that byproduct benefits, a concept developed to explain the evolution of cooperation in pairwise mutualisms, can also extend to interactions between plants and nonsymbiotic soil microbes.

DOI: 10.1002/ecy.3893

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