Research Article: Treating wheat seeds with neonicotinoid insecticides does not harm the rhizosphere microbial community

Date Published: December 3, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yaofa Li, Jingjie An, Zhihong Dang, Haiying Lv, Wenliang Pan, Zhanlin Gao, Yulin Gao.


Wheat aphids damage wheat plants directly by feeding on them and indirectly by transmitting plant pathogenic viruses, both of which result in low yield and plant death. Due to their high root absorption and systemic characteristics, neonicotinoid insecticidal seed treatments are increasingly applied to control wheat aphids throughout the growing season in China. Ecological concerns are raised in some research, because neonicotinoids can persist and accumulate in soils. They are prone to leach into waterways, and are found in crop nectars and pollens, where they may be harmful to pollinators. Less information is available about the effect of neonicotinoid seed treatments on soil microorganisms. Here, we posed the hypothesis that neonicotinoids are not harmful to soil microbial communities. We tested our hypothesis by evaluating the effects of two neonicotinoids, imidacloprid and clothianidin, on soil microbiomes using high-throughput sequencing during three points in the wheat growth season. Except for the imidacloprid-treated soil in the seedling stage, the community richness and diversity were not affected according to Chao1, ACE and the Shannon indices, and species distribution histogram at the phylum level. However, Beta diversity indices showed that the species richness of the bacterial and fungal community was suppressed by neonicotinoids in seedling stage (high neonicotinoids concentrations), whereas by the reviving period, the changes reverted into stimulation of the soil microorganisms (low neonicotinoids concentrations). Overall, the general microbiome recovered at the end of the wheat planting season. Generally, wheat seed dressing with neonicotinoid insecticides control aphids during the entire growth period, and have no lasting adverse effects on the soil microbiome. This study provides an understanding of the influence of neonicotinoids on crop land ecology at the level of soil microbe communities.

Partial Text

Wheat is the third-largest food crop in China, particularly in the northern area, covering 24.3 million ha [1,2]. Wheat aphids, Sitobion avenae (Fabricius), Rhopalosiphum padi (Linnaeus), Schizaphis graminum (Rondani) and Acyrthosiphon dirhodum (Walker) reduce crop production annually [3]. The most dominant species is S. avenae, a migratory aphid, which attacks wheat from the Yangzi to the Yellow River region [4,5]. Wheat aphids directly damage crops by sap ingestion, desiccation of leaves and ears, and reduced germination potential. They inflect indirect crop damage by transmitting plant pathogenic viruses, particularly the wheat yellow dwarf virus (WYDV), which further reduces yield [5,6].

With the increased use of neonicotinoids for agricultural pest control worldwide, concerns about the influence of these insecticides on agroecosystems are arising. Some issues have been investigated, particularly the direct and indirect neonicotinoid-caused mortality of non-target organisms, persistence and accumulation of the insecticides in soils, and effects on ecosystem services. The general picture indicates the neonicotionoids do not influence these issues [25, 38–41]. although impacts may occur above ground [25–27]. The data reported in this paper support our hypothesis that neonicotinoids are not harmful to soil microbial communities. Several points are germane. One, our hierarchical cluster analysis shows the insecticides did not influence the bacterial or fungal microbiomes over the growing season. Two, the relative abundances of dominant bacterial and fungal phyla were not significantly influenced by the insecticide treatments. Three, the matrix box plots similarly indicate the absence of substantial insecticidal influence. Four, the neonicotinoids did not influence populations of microbial biocontrol services. Taken together with the supplementary data, these points support our view that neonicotinoids do not influence soil microbiome populations.




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