Variation in competitive abilities of plants and microbes for specific amino acids
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Microbes are assumed to possess strong competitive advantages over plants for uptake of nutrients from the soil. The finding that non-mycorrhizal plants can obtain a significant fraction of their N requirement from soil amino acids contradicts this assumption. The amino acid glycine (Gly) has been used as a model amino acid in many recent studies. Our preliminary studies showed that Gly was a poor substrate for microbial growth compared to other amino acids. We tested the hypothesis that the alpine sedge Kobresia myosuroides competes better for Gly than for other amino acids because of decreased microbial demand for this compound. Soil microbial populations that could grow using Gly as a sole carbon source were about 5 times lower than those that could grow on glutamate (Glu). Gly supported a significantly lower population than any of the ten other amino acids tested except serine. In contrast, K. myosuroides took up Gly from hydroponic solution at faster rates than Glu. In plant-soil microcosms, plants competed with soil microbes 3.25 times better for Gly than for Glu. We conclude that the low microbial demand and the rapid plant uptake of Gly relative to other amino acids allow Gly to be an especially important nitrogen source for K. myosuroides.
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