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Compositional and abundance changes of nitrogen-cycling genes in plant-root microbiomes along a salt marsh chronosequence


Disentangling the relative influences of soil properties and plant-host on root-associated microbiomes in natural systems is challenging, given that spatially segregated soil types display distinct historical legacies. In addition, distant locations may also lead to biogeographical patterns of microbial communities. Here, we used an undisturbed salt marsh chronosequence spanning over a century of ecosystem development to investigate changes in the community composition and abundance of a set of nitrogen-cycling genes. Specifically, we targeted genes of diazotrophs and ammonia oxidizers associated with the bulk and rhizosphere soil of the plant species Limonium vulgare. Samples were collected across five distinct successional stages of the chronosequence (ranging from 5 to 105 years) at two time-points. Our results indicate that soil variables such as sand:silt:clay % content and pH strongly relates to the abundance of N-cycling genes in the bulk soil. However, in the rhizosphere samples, the abundance of ammonia-oxidizing organisms (both bacteria and archaea, AOB and AOA, respectively) was relatively constant across most of the successional stages, albeit displaying seasonal variation. This result indicates a potentially stronger control of plant host (rather than soil) on the abundance of these organisms. Interestingly, the plant host did not have a significant effect on the composition of AOA and AOB communities, being mostly divergent according to soil successional stages. The abundance of diazotrophic communities in rhizosphere samples was more affected by seasonality than those of bulk soil. Moreover, the abundance pattern of diazotrophs in the rhizosphere related to the systematic increase of plant biomass and soil organic matter along the successional gradient. These results suggest a potential season-dependent regulation of diazotrophs exerted by the plant host. Overall, this study contributes to a better understanding of how the natural formation of a soil and host plants influence the compositional and abundance changes of nitrogen-cycling genes in bulk and rhizosphere soil microhabitats.

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We thank Han Olff, Matty Berg, Chris Smit, Maarten Schrama and Ruth Howison for information on sampling locations and plant species determination. We are grateful to Jolanda K Brons for sampling expeditions. We also thank Nelly D. Eck for assisting soil physicochemical analyses. We thank the ‘Nederlandse Vereniging voor Natuurmonumenten’ for granting access to the salt marsh. This work was supported by China Scholarship Council, on a personal grant to MW.

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Correspondence to Miao Wang.

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Wang, M., Veldsink, J.H., Dini-Andreote, F. et al. Compositional and abundance changes of nitrogen-cycling genes in plant-root microbiomes along a salt marsh chronosequence. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 111, 2061–2078 (2018).

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  • nifH
  • amoA
  • Rhizosphere
  • Ecological succession
  • Salt marsh
  • Limonium vulgare