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Root Exudates Regulate Soil Fungal Community Composition and Diversity

Broeckling, Corey D., Broz, Amanda K., Bergelson, Joy, Manter, Daniel K., Vivanco, Jorge M.
Applied and environmental microbiology 2008 v.74 no.3 pp. 738
plant exudates, roots, soil fungi, community ecology, microbial ecology, Arabidopsis thaliana, Medicago truncatula, antifungal properties
Plants are in constant contact with a community of soil biota that contains fungi ranging from pathogenic to symbiotic. A few studies have demonstrated a critical role of chemical communication in establishing highly specialized relationships, but the general role for root exudates in structuring the soil fungal community is poorly described. This study demonstrates that two model plant species (Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula) are able to maintain resident soil fungal populations but unable to maintain nonresident soil fungal populations. This is mediated largely through root exudates: the effects of adding in vitro-generated root exudates to the soil fungal community were qualitatively and quantitatively similar to the results observed for plants grown in those same soils. This effect is observed for total fungal biomass, phylotype diversity, and overall community similarity to the starting community. Nonresident plants and root exudates influenced the fungal community by both positively and negatively impacting the relative abundance of individual phylotypes. A net increase in fungal biomass was observed when nonresident root exudates were added to resident plant treatments, suggesting that increases in specific carbon substrates and/or signaling compounds support an increased soil fungal population load. This study establishes root exudates as a mechanism through which a plant is able to regulate soil fungal community composition.