Temporally Selective Modification of the Tomato Rhizosphere and Root Microbiome by Volcanic Ash Fertilizer Containing Micronutrients
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1128/aem.00049-22
Food crops are grown with fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (macronutrients) along with magnesium, calcium, boron, and zinc (micronutrients) at different ratios during their cultivation. Soil and plant-associated microbes have been implicated to promote plant growth, stress tolerance, and productivity. However, the high degree of variability across agricultural environments makes it difficult to assess the possible influences of nutrient fertilizers on these microbial communities. Uncovering the underlying mechanisms could lead us to achieve consistently improved food quality and productivity with minimal environmental impacts. For this purpose, we tested a commercially available fertilizer (surface-mined volcanic ash deposit Azomite) applied as a supplement to the normal fertilizer program of greenhouse-grown tomato plants. Because this treatment showed a significant increase in fruit production at measured intervals, we examined its impact on the composition of below-ground microbial communities, focusing on members identified as "core taxa" that were enriched in the rhizosphere and root endosphere compared to bulk soil and appeared above their predicted neutral distribution levels in control and treated samples. This analysis revealed that Azomite had little effect on microbial composition overall, but it had a significant, temporally selective influence on the core taxa. Changes in the composition of the core taxa were correlated with computationally inferred changes in functional pathway enrichment associated with carbohydrate metabolism, suggesting a shift in available microbial nutrients within the roots. This finding exemplifies how the nutrient environment can specifically alter the functional capacity of root-associated bacterial taxa, with the potential to improve crop productivity. IMPORTANCE Various types of soil fertilizers are used routinely to increase crop yields globally. The effects of these treatments are assessed mainly by the benefits they provide in increased crop productivity. There exists a gap in our understanding of how soil fertilizers act on the plant-associated microbial communities. The underlying mechanisms of nutrient uptake are widely complex and, thus, difficult to evaluate fully but have critical influences on both soil and plant health. Here, we presented a systematic approach to analyzing the effects of fertilizer on core microbial communities in soil and plants, leading to predictable outcomes that can be empirically tested and used to develop simple and affordable field tests. The methods described here can be used for any fertilizer and crop system. Continued effort in advancing our understanding of how fertilizers affect plant and microbe relations is needed to advance scientific understanding and help growers make better-informed decisions.