Shifts in plant–microbe interactions over community succession and their effects on plant resistance to herbivores

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Soil microorganisms can influence the development of complex plant phenotypes, including resistance to herbivores. This microbiome-mediated plasticity may be particularly important for plant species that persist in environments with drastically changing herbivore pressure, for example over community succession. We established a 15-yr gradient of old-field succession to examine the herbivore resistance and rhizosphere microbial communities of Solidago altissima plants in a large-scale field experiment. To assess the functional effects of these successional microbial shifts, we inoculated S. altissima plants with microbiomes from the 2nd, 6th and 15th successional years in a glasshouse and compared their herbivore resistance. The resistance of S. altissima plants to herbivores changed over succession, with concomitant shifts in the rhizosphere microbiome. Late succession microbiomes conferred the strongest herbivore resistance to S. altissima plants in a glasshouse experiment, paralleling the low levels of herbivory observed in the oldest communities in the field. While many factors change over succession and may contribute to the shifts in rhizosphere communities and herbivore resistance we observed, our results indicated that soil microbial shifts alone can alter plants’ interactions with herbivores. Our findings suggest that changes in soil microbial communities over succession can play an important role in enhancing plant resistance to herbivores.
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We thank Lynn Johnson of the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit for statistical advice; Aino Kalske, Alex Chaut a, and Alex Stotter for help with data collection; and Maria Gannett and Liang Cheng for help with microbial DNA sequence processing; and four anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript. This research was funded in part by a Sustainable Biodiversity Fund grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Andrew W. Mellon student grants from Cornell, a Schmittau-Novak small grant from the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, and a grant from Sigma Xi to MMH, as well as grants from NIFA Multistate NE-1501 and New Phytologist to AK. MMH was supported in part by a Horton- Hallowell Graduate Fellowship from Wellesley College and a Sellew Family Fellowship from Cornell.
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New Phytologist
above–belowground interactions, herbivory, microbiome, rhizosphere, soil legacy effects, Solidago altissima, succession, Trirhabda virgata.
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