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Soil microbes alter seedling performance and biotic interactions under plant competition and contrasting light conditions

Abstract : Background and Aims Growing evidence suggests that the net effect of soil microbes on plants depends on both abiotic and biotic conditions, but the context-dependency of soil feedback effects remains poorly understood. Here we test for interactions between the presence of conspecific soil microbes, plant competition and light availability on tree seedling performance. Methods Seedlings of two congeneric tropical tree species, Bauhinia brachycarpa and Bauhinia variegata, were grown in either sterilized soil or soil conditioned by conspecific soil microorganisms in a two-phase, greenhouse feedback experiment. We examined the interactive effects of soil treatment (live, sterilized), light availability (low, high) and plant competition (no competition, intraspecific and interspecific competition) on tree seedling biomass. We also investigated the linkages between the outcomes of soil feedback effects and soil microbial community structure. Key Results The outcomes of soil feedback effects on seedling biomass varied depending on both competition treatment and light availability. Under low light conditions, soil feedback effects were neutral irrespective of competition treatment and plant species. Soil feedback effects were negative in high light for seedlings with interspecific competition, but positive for seedlings growing alone or with intraspecific competition. Soil feedback effects for seedlings were driven by variation in the Gram positive–Gram negative bacteria ratio. Light and conspecific soil microbes had interactive effects on the competitive environment experienced by tree species; in low light, the presence of conspecific soil microbes decreased plant competition intensity, whereas in high light, both the intensity and the importance of competition increased for seedlings in the presence of soil microbes, irrespective of plant species. Conclusions Our findings underline the importance of light and plant competition for the outcomes of soil feedback effects on young tree seedlings, and suggest that reduced light availability may reduce the influence of conspecific soil microbes on plant-plant interactions.
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Contributor : Juliette Bloor Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 6:00:50 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 1, 2022 - 5:31:49 PM

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Nianxun Xi, Chengjin Chu, Juliette Bloor. Soil microbes alter seedling performance and biotic interactions under plant competition and contrasting light conditions. Annals of Botany, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2020, ⟨10.1093/aob/mcaa134⟩. ⟨hal-02935955⟩



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