Plant-microbe interactions in the rhizosphere influence rates of organic matter mineralization and nutrient cycling that are critical to sustainable agricultural productivity. Agricultural intensification, particularly the introduction of synthetic fertilizer in the USA, altered the abundance and dominant forms of nitrogen (N), a critical plant nutrient, potentially imposing selection pressure on plant traits and plant-microbe interactions regulating N cycling and acquisition. We hypothesized that maize adaptation to synthetic N fertilization altered root functional traits and rhizosphere microbial nutrient cycling, reducing maize ability to acquire N from organic sources. Six maize genotypes released pre-fertilizer (1936, 1939, 1942) or post-fertilizer (1984, 1994, 2015) were grown in rhizoboxes containing patches of 15N-labelled clover/vetch residue. Multivariate approaches did not identify architectural traits that strongly and consistently predicted rhizosphere processes, though metrics of root morphological plasticity were linked to carbon-and N-cycling enzyme activities. Root traits, potential activities of extracellular enzymes (BG, LAP, NAG, urease), abundances of N-cycling genes (amoA, narG, nirK, nirS, nosZ) and uptake of organic N did not differ between eras of release despite substantial variation among genotypes and replicates. Thus, agricultural intensification does not appear to have impaired N cycling and acquisition from organic sources by modern maize and its rhizobiome. Improved mechanistic understanding of rhizosphere processes and their response to selective pressures will contribute greatly to rhizosphere engineering for sustainable agriculture.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Plant Science