, Volume 170, Issue 4, pp 1089–1098 | Cite as

Nitrogen-fixing bacteria, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and the productivity and structure of prairie grassland communities

  • Jonathan T. BauerEmail author
  • Nathan M. Kleczewski
  • James D. Bever
  • Keith Clay
  • Heather L. Reynolds
Community ecology - Original research


Due to their complementary roles in meeting plant nutritional needs, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and nitrogen-fixing bacteria (N2-fixers) may have synergistic effects on plant communities. Using greenhouse microcosms, we tested the effects of AMF, N2-fixers (symbiotic: rhizobia, and associative: Azospirillum brasilense), and their potential interactions on the productivity, diversity, and species composition of diverse tallgrass prairie communities and on the productivity of Panicum virgatum in monoculture. Our results demonstrate the importance of AMF and N2-fixers as drivers of plant community structure and function. In the communities, we found a positive effect of AMF on diversity and productivity, but a negative effect of N2-fixers on productivity. Both AMF and N2-fixers affected relative abundances of species. AMF shifted the communities from dominance by Elymus canadensis to Sorghastrum nutans, and seven other species increased in abundance with AMF, accounting for the increased diversity. N2-fixers led to increases in Astragalus canadensis and Desmanthus illinoense, two legumes that likely benefited from the presence of the appropriate rhizobia symbionts. Sorghastrum nutans declined 44 % in the presence of N2-fixers, with the most likely explanation being increased competition from legumes. Panicum monocultures were more productive with AMF, but showed no response to N2-fixers, although inference was constrained by low Azospirillum treatment effectivity. We did not find interactions between AMF and N2-fixers in communities or Panicum monocultures, indicating that short-term effects of these microbial functional groups are additive.


Symbiosis Diversity Panicum virgatum Azospirillum Rhizobia 



We appreciate the contributions of the following research assistants to the set-up and harvest of our experiment: Sarah Svendson, Jessica Walter, Chris Brown, Adam Mercer, Amanda Posto, Rebecca Stoops, Erica Waters, and Julia Ferguson. Soil from the Lewis Mine was provided by George Boyles, Director of Reclamation for Solar Sources, Inc. Members of the Reynolds lab provided helpful comments on the design, results and interpretation of this work. Funding was provided to H.L.R. by Indiana University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Biology Department, and to H.L.R., J.D.B. and K.C. by the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences (CRES). These experiments comply with current laws where the experiments were performed and the authors have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan T. Bauer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nathan M. Kleczewski
    • 2
  • James D. Bever
    • 1
  • Keith Clay
    • 1
  • Heather L. Reynolds
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Southwest Purdue Agricultural Research CenterPurdue UniversityVincennesUSA

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