Nitrogen deposition decreases the benefits of symbiosis in a native legume

Abstract

Aims

Anthropogenic nitrogen deposition can provide legumes with a cheap source of nitrogen relative to symbiotic nitrogen fixation, leading to the potential breakdown of this critical symbiosis. Here, the effects of nitrogen deposition were tested on a native symbiosis between legumes and rhizobia.

Methods

Deposition rates, soil nitrogen concentration, and plant nitrogen isotopic composition were quantified along a predicted deposition gradient in California. Acmispon strigosus seedlings were exposed to fertilization spanning nitrogen concentrations observed in the plant’s California range. Both wild and experimental plants from pristine and nitrogen polluted sites were tested using rhizobial strains that varied in nitrogen fixation.

Results

Deposition intensity was tightly correlated with nitrogen concentration in soils. The growth benefits of rhizobial nodulation were dramatically reduced by even modest levels of mineral nitrogen, and all Acmispon lines failed to form root nodules at high nitrogen concentrations.

Conclusions

Our dataset suggests that anthropogenic deposition has greatly increased soil nitrogen concentrations in Southern California leading to significantly reduced benefits of rhizobial symbiosis. If nitrogen deposition increases continue, plant host mortality and a total collapse of the symbiosis could result.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the U.C. Natural Reserve System and Bodega Marine Reserve in particular. This research was supported by NSF DEB-1150278 to JLS and Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Award to JUR.

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Correspondence to J. L. Sachs.

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Responsible Editor: Euan K. James.

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Regus, J.U., Wendlandt, C.E., Bantay, R.M. et al. Nitrogen deposition decreases the benefits of symbiosis in a native legume. Plant Soil 414, 159–170 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-016-3114-8

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Keywords

  • Anthropogenic nitrogen deposition
  • Biological nitrogen fixation
  • Legume rhizobium symbiosis
  • Mutualism breakdown