skip to main content

Title: Negative effects of nitrogen override positive effects of phosphorus on grassland legumes worldwide
Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment is driving global biodiversity decline and modifying ecosystem functions. Theory suggests that plant functional types that fix atmospheric nitrogen have a competitive advantage in nitrogen-poor soils, but lose this advantage with increasing nitrogen supply. By contrast, the addition of phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients may benefit such species in low-nutrient environments by enhancing their nitrogen-fixing capacity. We present a global-scale experiment confirming these predictions for nitrogen-fixing legumes (Fabaceae) across 45 grasslands on six continents. Nitrogen addition reduced legume cover, richness, and biomass, particularly in nitrogen-poor soils, while cover of non–nitrogen-fixing plants increased. The addition of phosphorous, potassium, and other nutrients enhanced legume abundance, but did not mitigate the negative effects of nitrogen addition. Increasing nitrogen supply thus has the potential to decrease the diversity and abundance of grassland legumes worldwide regardless of the availability of other nutrients, with consequences for biodiversity, food webs, ecosystem resilience, and genetic improvement of protein-rich agricultural plant species.
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Award ID(s):
2025849 1831944
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Campbell, Barbara J. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT In nutrient-limited conditions, plants rely on rhizosphere microbial members to facilitate nutrient acquisition, and in return, plants provide carbon resources to these root-associated microorganisms. However, atmospheric nutrient deposition can affect plant-microbe relationships by changing soil bacterial composition and by reducing cooperation between microbial taxa and plants. To examine how long-term nutrient addition shapes rhizosphere community composition, we compared traits associated with bacterial (fast-growing copiotrophs, slow-growing oligotrophs) and plant (C 3 forb, C 4 grass) communities residing in a nutrient-poor wetland ecosystem. Results revealed that oligotrophic taxa dominated soil bacterial communities and that fertilization increased the presence of oligotrophs in bulk and rhizosphere communities. Additionally, bacterial species diversity was greatest in fertilized soils, particularly in bulk soils. Nutrient enrichment (fertilized versus unfertilized) and plant association (bulk versus rhizosphere) determined bacterial community composition; bacterial community structure associated with plant functional group (grass versus forb) was similar within treatments but differed between fertilization treatments. The core forb microbiome consisted of 602 unique taxa, and the core grass microbiome consisted of 372 unique taxa. Forb rhizospheres were enriched in potentially disease-suppressive bacterial taxa, and grass rhizospheres were enriched in bacterial taxa associated with complex carbon decomposition. Results from this study demonstrate that fertilizationmore »serves as a strong environmental filter on the soil microbiome, which leads to distinct rhizosphere communities and can shift plant effects on the rhizosphere microbiome. These taxonomic shifts within plant rhizospheres could have implications for plant health and ecosystem functions associated with carbon and nitrogen cycling. IMPORTANCE Over the last century, humans have substantially altered nitrogen and phosphorus cycling. Use of synthetic fertilizer and burning of fossil fuels and biomass have increased nitrogen and phosphorus deposition, which results in unintended fertilization of historically low-nutrient ecosystems. With increased nutrient availability, plant biodiversity is expected to decline, and the abundance of copiotrophic taxa is anticipated to increase in bacterial communities. Here, we address how bacterial communities associated with different plant functional types (forb, grass) shift due to long-term nutrient enrichment. Unlike other studies, results revealed an increase in bacterial diversity, particularly of oligotrophic bacteria in fertilized plots. We observed that nutrient addition strongly determines forb and grass rhizosphere composition, which could indicate different metabolic preferences in the bacterial communities. This study highlights how long-term fertilization of oligotroph-dominated wetlands could alter diversity and metabolism of rhizosphere bacterial communities in unexpected ways.« less
  2. Abstract

    Water sources in arid and semiarid ecosystems support humans, wildlife, and domestic animals, forming nodes of activity that sculpt surrounding plant communities and impact critical grazing and soil systems. However, global aridification and changing surface water supply threaten to disrupt these water resources, with strong implications for conservation and management of these ecosystems. To understand how effects of herbivore aggregation at water impact plant communities across contexts, we measured herbivore activity, plant height, cover (trees, grasses, forbs, and bare ground), diversity, and composition at 17 paired water sources and matrix sites across a range of abiotic factors in a semiarid savanna in Kenya. The effects of proximity to surface water and herbivore aggregation on plant communities varied substantially depending on soil and rainfall. In arid areas with nutrient‐poor sandy soils, forb and tree cover were 50% lower at water sources compared to neighboring matrix sites, bare ground was 20% higher, species richness was 15% lower, and a single globally important grazing grass (Cynodon dactylon) dominated 60% of transects. However, in mesic areas with nutrient‐rich finely textured soils, species richness was 25% higher, despite a 40% increase in bare ground, concurrent with the decline of a dominant tall grass (Themedamore »triandra) and increase inC. dactylonand other grass species near water sources. Recent rainfall was important for grasses; cover was higher relative to matrix sites only during wet periods, a potential indication of compensatory grazing. These findings suggest that effects of herbivore aggregation on vegetation diversity and composition will vary in magnitude, and in some cases direction, depending on other factors at the site. Where moisture and nutrient resources are high and promote the dominance of few plant species, herbivore aggregations may maintain diversity by promoting grazing lawns and increasing nondominant species cover. However, in arid conditions and sites with low nutrient availability, diversity can be substantially reduced by these aggregations. Our results highlight the importance of considering abiotic conditions when managing for effects of herbivore aggregations near water. This will be particularly important for future managers in light of growing global aridification and surface water changes.

    « less
  3. Summary

    Mutually beneficial resource exchange is fundamental to global biogeochemical cycles and plant and animal nutrition. However, there is inherent potential conflict in mutualisms, as each organism benefits more when the exchange ratio (‘price’) minimizes its own costs and maximizes its benefits. Understanding the bargaining power that each partner has in these interactions is key to our ability to predict the exchange ratio and therefore the functionality of the cell, organism, community and ecosystem.

    We tested whether partners have symmetrical (‘fair’) or asymmetrical (‘unfair’) bargaining power in a legume–rhizobia nitrogen‐fixing symbiosis using measurements of carbon and nitrogen dynamics in a mathematical modeling framework derived from economic theory.

    A model of symmetric bargaining power was not consistent with our data. Instead, our data indicate that the growth benefit to the plant (Medicago truncatula) has greater weight in determining trade dynamics than the benefit to the bacteria. Quantitative estimates of the relative power of the plant revealed that the plant's influence rises as soil nitrogen availability decreases and trade benefits to both partners increase.

    Our finding thatM. truncatulalegumes have more bargaining power than their rhizobial partner at lower nitrogen availabilities highlights the importance of context‐dependence for the evolution of mutualism with increasing nutrient deposition.

  4. Cooper, Vaughn S. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Root nodulating rhizobia are nearly ubiquitous in soils and provide the critical service of nitrogen fixation to thousands of legume species, including staple crops. However, the magnitude of fixed nitrogen provided to hosts varies markedly among rhizobia strains, despite host legumes having mechanisms to selectively reward beneficial strains and to punish ones that do not fix sufficient nitrogen. Variation in the services of microbial mutualists is considered paradoxical given host mechanisms to select beneficial genotypes. Moreover, the recurrent evolution of non-fixing symbiont genotypes is predicted to destabilize symbiosis, but breakdown has rarely been observed. Here, we deconstructed hundreds of genome sequences from genotypically and phenotypically diverse Bradyrhizobium strains and revealed mechanisms that generate variation in symbiotic nitrogen fixation. We show that this trait is conferred by a modular system consisting of many extremely large integrative conjugative elements and few conjugative plasmids. Their transmissibility and propensity to reshuffle genes generate new combinations that lead to uncooperative genotypes and make individual partnerships unstable. We also demonstrate that these same properties extend beneficial associations to diverse host species and transfer symbiotic capacity among diverse strains. Hence, symbiotic nitrogen fixation is underpinned by modularity, which engenders flexibility, a feature that reconciles evolutionary robustnessmore »and instability. These results provide new insights into mechanisms driving the evolution of mobile genetic elements. Moreover, they yield a new predictive model on the evolution of rhizobial symbioses, one that informs on the health of organisms and ecosystems that are hosts to symbionts and that helps resolve the long-standing paradox. IMPORTANCE Genetic variation is fundamental to evolution yet is paradoxical in symbiosis. Symbionts exhibit extensive variation in the magnitude of services they provide despite hosts having mechanisms to select and increase the abundance of beneficial genotypes. Additionally, evolution of uncooperative symbiont genotypes is predicted to destabilize symbiosis, but breakdown has rarely been observed. We analyzed genome sequences of Bradyrhizobium, bacteria that in symbioses with legume hosts, fix nitrogen, a nutrient essential for ecosystems. We show that genes for symbiotic nitrogen fixation are within elements that can move between bacteria and reshuffle gene combinations that change host range and quality of symbiosis services. Consequently, nitrogen fixation is evolutionarily unstable for individual partnerships, but is evolutionarily stable for legume- Bradyrhizobium symbioses in general. We developed a holistic model of symbiosis evolution that reconciles robustness and instability of symbiosis and informs on applications of rhizobia in agricultural settings.« less
  5. In legumes, symbiotic nitrogen (N) fixation (SNF) occurs in specialized organs called nodules after successful interactions between legume hosts and rhizobia. In a nodule, N-fixing rhizobia are surrounded by symbiosome membranes, through which the exchange of nutrients and ammonium occurs between bacteria and the host legume. Phosphorus (P) is an essential macronutrient, and N2-fixing legumes have a higher requirement for P than legumes grown on mineral N. As in the previous studies, in P deficiency, barrel medic (Medicago truncatula) plants had impaired SNF activity, reduced growth, and accumulated less phosphate in leaves, roots, and nodules compared with the plants grown in P sufficient conditions. Membrane lipids in M. truncatula tissues were assessed using electrospray ionization–mass spectrometry. Galactolipids were found to increase in P deficiency, with declines in phospholipids (PL), especially in leaves. Lower PL losses were found in roots and nodules. Subsequently, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization–mass spectrometry imaging was used to spatially map the distribution of the positively charged phosphatidylcholine (PC) species in nodules in both P-replete and P-deficient conditions. Our results reveal heterogeneous distribution of several PC species in nodules, with homogeneous distribution of other PC classes. In P poor conditions, some PC species distributions were observed to change. Themore »results suggest that specific PC species may be differentially important in diverse nodule zones and cell types, and that membrane lipid remodeling during P stress is not uniform across the nodule.« less