Influence of plant developmental stage on microbial community structure and activity in the rhizosphere of three field crops

Ashley Houlden, Tracey M Timms-Wilson, Martin J Day, Mark J Bailey
FEMS Microbiology Ecology 2008, 65 (2): 193-201
Seasonal shifts in rhizosphere microbial populations were investigated to follow the influence of plant developmental stage. A field study of indigenous microbial rhizosphere communities was undertaken on pea (Pisum satvium var. quincy), wheat (Triticum aestivum var. pena wawa) and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris var. amythyst). Rhizosphere community diversity and substrate utilization patterns were followed throughout a growing season, by culturing, rRNA gene density gradient gel electrophoresis and BIOLOG. Culturable bacterial and fungal rhizosphere community densities were stable in pea and wheat rhizospheres, with dynamic shifts observed in the sugar beet rhizosphere. Successional shifts in bacterial and fungal diversity as plants mature demonstrated that different plants select and define their own functional rhizosphere communities. Assessment of metabolic activity and resource utilization by bacterial community-level physiological profiling demonstrated greater similarities between different plant species rhizosphere communities at the same than at different developmental stages. Marked temporal shifts in diversity and relative activity were observed in rhizosphere bacterial communities with developmental stage for all plant species studied. Shifts in the diversity of fungal and bacterial communities were more pronounced in maturing pea and sugar beet plants. This detailed study demonstrates that plant species select for specialized microbial communities that change in response to plant growth and plant inputs.

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