Research Article: Root growth, function and rhizosphere microbiome analyses show local rather than systemic effects in apple plant response to replant disease soil

Date Published: October 8, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Maik Lucas, Alicia Balbín-Suárez, Kornelia Smalla, Doris Vetterlein, Francisco Martinez-Abarca.


Apple replant disease (ARD) is the phenomenon of soil decline occurring after repeated planting of apple trees at the same site. This study aimed to elucidate whether ARD is systemic, i.e. whether the contact of parts of the root system with ARD soil causes the whole plant to show poor shoot and root growth. A split-root experiment was conducted with seedlings of ‘M26’, offering the same plant for its root system the choice between the substrates ARD soil (+ARD), γ-sterilized ARD soil (-ARD) or soil from a grass parcel (Control) with the following combinations: +ARD/+ARD, -ARD/-ARD; +ARD/-ARD; +ARD/Control. Root growth was analysed throughout the 34-day growing period. Samples from bulk, rhizosphere and rhizoplane soil were collected separately for each compartment, and analysed by fingerprints of 16S rRNA gene or ITS fragments amplified from total community (TC) DNA. The response of the plant to +ARD was not systemic as root growth in -ARD compartment was always superior to root growth in +ARD soil. Crosswise 15N-labelling of the N-fertilizer applied to the split-root compartments showed that nitrate-N uptake efficiency was higher for roots in -ARD soil compared to those in +ARD. Bacterial and fungal community composition in the rhizoplane and rhizosphere of the same plants differed significantly between the compartments containing +ARD/-ARD or +ARD/Control. The strongest differences between the bacterial fingerprints were observed in the rhizoplane and rhizosphere. Bacterial genera with increased abundance in response to ARD were mainly Streptomyces but also Sphingobium, Novosphingobium, Rhizobium, Lysobacter and Variovorax. The strongest differences between the fungal fingerprints were observed in bulk soil. Our data showed that the response of the apple plant to ARD soil is local and not systemic.

Partial Text

The split-root approach enabled us to evaluate substrate-specific effects on root growth and shoot growth of the same plant. In the present experiment plants grown in +ARD/-ARD soil showed shoot growth comparable to plants grown in -ARD/-ARD only, while those from +ARD/+ARD rhizoboxes showed poor shoot growth. Obviously, spatial separation of +ARD and -ARD soil allowed reducing negative effects on shoot growth while experiments using dilution of +ARD soil with sterilized (or soil never planted to apple) at similar or even higher rates (20 to 95% healthy soil) were not successful in overcoming ARD [2,15,18,20,39]. Also for root growth, compensation was observed in -ARD/+ARD or control/+ARD treatment, i.e. if one of the compartments was filled with -ARD soil or control soil, root growth in the +ARD compartment was enhanced compared to +ARD/+ARD. From these results it can be concluded that the response of apple to ARD soil is not systemic as mainly roots in direct contact with +ARD soil were strikingly affected in their growth and morphology as well as in their ability to take up 15N. Based on this observation we propose that only direct exposure to the +ARD microbiome and its metabolites, e.g. secreted molecules, volatiles and local plant defence responses, seemed to cause the changes in root morphology. This is in line with field observations as reported by Hoestra [2], showing that ARD mainly affects the apple trees in the first years of planting, thereafter the roots grow deeper into soil layers less affected by ARD. It must be emphasized that this non-systemic response was observed despite strong indications that some bacterial populations (Streptomyces, Sphingobium) were detected in the -ARD compartment only when the other compartment contained +ARD soil (Fig 9). This finding might either be explained by a migration of respective bacterial populations via the plant or due to their enrichment caused by root metabolites in the -ARD compartment only, when the other part of the apple roots were exposed to +ARD. Exchange between the two compartments of the split-root system was revealed by the increase of 15N abundance in the root tissue grown in the unlabelled compartment of treatment -ARD/+ARD. Whatever caused the enrichment of these populations, they themselves are likely not the causal agent of ARD as the roots in the -ARD compartment were not affected.




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