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Durham University

Department of Biosciences


Publication details for Dr Wayne Dawson

Dawson, W., Hör, J., van Kleunen, M. & Pester, M. (2017). A small number of low-abundance bacteria dominate plant species-specific responses during rhizosphere colonisation. Frontiers in Microbiology 8: 975.

Author(s) from Durham


Plant growth can be affected by soil bacteria. In turn, plants are known to influence soil bacteria through rhizodeposits and changes in abiotic conditions. We aimed to quantify the phylotype richness and relative abundance of rhizosphere bacteria that are actually influenced in a plant species-specific manner and to determine the role of the disproportionately large diversity of low-abundance bacteria belonging to the rare biosphere (<0.1 relative abundance) in this process. In addition, we aimed to determine whether plant phylogeny has an influence on the plant species-specific rhizosphere bacterial community. For this purpose, 19 herbaceous plant species from five different plant orders were grown in a common soil substrate. Bacterial communities in the initial soil substrate and the established rhizosphere soils were compared by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Only a small number of bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs, 97% sequence identity) responded either positively (ca. 1%) or negatively (ca. 1%) to a specific plant species. On average, 91% of plant-specific positive response OTUs comprised bacteria belonging to the rare biosphere, highlighting that low-abundance populations are metabolically active in the rhizosphere. In addition, low-abundance OTUs were in terms of their summed relative abundance major drivers of the bacterial phyla composition across the rhizosphere of all tested plant species. However, no effect of plant phylogeny could be observed on the established rhizosphere bacterial communities, neither when considering differences in the overall established rhizosphere communities nor when considering plant species-specific responders only. Our study provides a quantitative assessment of the effect of plants on their rhizosphere bacteria across multiple plant orders. Plant species-specific effects on soil bacterial communities involved only 18-111 bacterial OTUs out of several thousands; this minority may potentially impact plant growth in plant-bacteria interactions.