Fonseca, M., Dias, T., Carolino M., Costa França, M.G. & Cruz, C. (2017) Belowground microbes mitigate plant-plant competition.Plant Science, 262, 175-181. DOI:DOI:10.1016/j.plantsci.2017.06.006 (IF2017 3,712; Q1 Plant Sciences)
Dimorphandra wilsonii, a Cerrado endemic Fabaceae tree, is threatened by land-use changes. The few remaining individuals occur in areas dominated by alien grasses like Urochloa decumbens. We tested the impact of nitrogen (N) availability and symbionts’ presence on mitigating the effects of competition from U. decumbens.
Dimorphandra wilsonii seedlings were 50-week pot-cultivated under limiting (3 mM) or non-limiting (10 mM) N, with or without U. decumbens, and inoculated or not with a N-fixer (Bradyrhizobium sp.) and an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF – Glomus etunicatum), both forming symbioses in the field.
Since D. wilsonii seedlings grew more and ‘lost’ fewer nutrients under the symbionts’ presence, symbionts mitigated plant-plant competition. Under limiting N, inoculated D. wilsonii seedlings grew more (despite no nodulation), but N fixation was only suggested when inoculated D. wilsonii seedlings competed with U. decumbens. D. wilsonii13C, and substrate’s carbon and respiration suggest that only the microbes performing key functions received plant carbon. Under non-limiting N, inoculated D. wilsonii seedlings became enriched in 13C, substrate accumulated carbon and microbial respiration increased, suggesting a more generalist microbial community. Data suggest inoculating D. wilsoniiseeds/seedlings with AMF and N-fixers as a conservation measure. However, long-term field-studies need to confirm these conclusions.