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Plant species, nitrogen status and endophytes are drivers of soil microbial communities in grasslands

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-28, 22:24 authored by Susanne Rasmussen, Anthony J. Parsons, Julia Russell, Daniel A. Bastías CamposDaniel A. Bastías Campos, Qianhe LiuQianhe Liu

Context: There is concern that the introduction of ‘novel’ plant germplasm/traits could outpace our capacity to measure and so assess their impacts on soil microbial communities and function.

Aim: This study aimed to investigate the effects of plant species/functional traits, nitrogen (N) fertilisation and endophyte infection on grassland soil microbial communities within a short time span of 2 years.

Methods: Two field experiments with monoculture plots were conducted in a common soil. Experiment 1 compared grasses and legumes, using two cultivars of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) that varied in fructan content, along with the legumes white clover (Trifolium repens) and bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) that varied in tannin content. Grass treatments received high and low N application levels. Experiment 2 compared the presence/absence of Epichloë strains in ryegrass, tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix) and meadow fescue (Schedonorus pratensis). Soil microbial communities were analysed by using high-throughput sequencing of DNA isolated from bulk soil cores.

Key results: Higher abundance of ligninolytic fungi was found in grass soils and pectinolytic fungi in legume soils. Levels of N fertilisation and fructan in ryegrass had only minor effects on soil fungal communities. By contrast, N fertilisation or fixation had a strong effect on bacterial communities, with higher abundance of nitrifiers and denitrifiers in high-N grass soils and in legume soils than in low-N grass soils. Epichloë affected soil microbiota by reducing the abundance of certain fungal phytopathogens, increasing mycorrhizal fungi and reducing N-fixing bacteria.

Conclusions: Chemical composition of plant cell walls, which differs between grasses and legumes, and presence of Epichloë in grasses were the main drivers of shifts in soil microbial communities.

Implications: Impacts of farming practices such as mono- or poly-culture, N fertilisation and presence of Epichloë in grasses on soil microbial communities should be considered in pasture management.


New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Contract ID C10X0903)


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© 2023 The Author(s) (or their employer(s)). Published by CSIRO Publishing. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND)

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  • Non revenue


  • English

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Journal title

Crop & Pasture Science



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