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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Efficiency of partner choice and sanctions in Lotus is not altered by nitrogen fertilization.

  • Author(s): Regus, JU
  • Gano, KA
  • Hollowell, AC
  • Sachs, JL
  • et al.

Eukaryotic hosts must exhibit control mechanisms to select against ineffective bacterial symbionts. Hosts can minimize infection by less-effective symbionts (partner choice) and can divest of uncooperative bacteria after infection (sanctions). Yet, such host-control traits are predicted to be context dependent, especially if they are costly for hosts to express or maintain. Legumes form symbiosis with rhizobia that vary in symbiotic effectiveness (nitrogen fixation) and can enforce partner choice as well as sanctions. In nature, legumes acquire fixed nitrogen from both rhizobia and soils, and nitrogen deposition is rapidly enriching soils globally. If soil nitrogen is abundant, we predict host control to be downregulated, potentially allowing invasion of ineffective symbionts. We experimentally manipulated soil nitrogen to examine context dependence in host control. We co-inoculated Lotus strigosus from nitrogen depauperate soils with pairs of Bradyrhizobium strains that vary in symbiotic effectiveness and fertilized plants with either zero nitrogen or growth maximizing nitrogen. We found efficient partner choice and sanctions regardless of nitrogen fertilization, symbiotic partner combination or growth season. Strikingly, host control was efficient even when L. strigosus gained no significant benefit from rhizobial infection, suggesting that these traits are resilient to short-term changes in extrinsic nitrogen, whether natural or anthropogenic.

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