Root-secreted Allelochemical in the Noxious Weed Phragmites Australis Deploys a Reactive Oxygen Species Response and Microtubule Assembly Disruption to Execute Rhizotoxicity
Phragmites australis is considered the most invasive plant in marsh and wetland communities in the eastern United States. Although allelopathy has been considered as a possible displacing mechanism in P. australis, there has been minimal success in characterizing the responsible allelochemical. We tested the occurrence of root-derived allelopathy in the invasiveness of P. australis. To this end, root exudates of two P. australis genotypes, BB (native) and P38 (an exotic) were tested for phytotoxicity on different plant species. The treatment of the susceptible plants with P. australis root exudates resulted in acute rhizotoxicity. It is interesting to note that the root exudates of P38 were more effective in causing root death in susceptible plants compared to the native BB exudates. The active ingredient in the P. australis exudates was identified as 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid (gallic acid). We tested the phytotoxic efficacy of gallic acid on various plant systems, including the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Most tested plants succumbed to the gallic acid treatment with the exception of P. australis itself. Mechanistically, gallic acid treatment generated elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the treated plant roots. Furthermore, the triggered ROS mediated the disruption of the root architecture of the susceptible plants by damaging the microtubule assembly. The study also highlights the persistence of the exuded gallic acid in P. australis’s rhizosphere and its inhibitory effects against A. thaliana in the soil. In addition, gallic acid demonstrated an inhibitory effect on Spartina alterniflora, one of the salt marsh species it successfully invades.