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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Fort Lauderdale, Florida » Invasive Plant Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #353501

Research Project: Identification, Evaluation, and Implementation of Biological Control Agents for Invasive Weeds of Southeastern Ecosystems

Location: Invasive Plant Research Laboratory

Title: Soil microbiomes underlie population persistence of an endangered plant species

item David, Aaron
item QUINTANA-ASCENCIO, PEDRO - University Of Central Florida
item MENGES, ERIC - Archbold Biological Station
item THAPA-MAGAR, KHUM - Colorado State University
item MICHELLE, AFKHAMI - University Of Miami
item CHRISTOPHER, SEARCY - University Of Miami

Submitted to: The American Naturalist
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/16/2019
Publication Date: 6/1/2019
Citation: David, A.S., Quintana-Ascencio, P., Menges, E., Thapa-Magar, K., Michelle, A., Christopher, S. 2019. Soil microbiomes underlie population persistence of an endangered plant species. The American Naturalist. 194(4).

Interpretive Summary: We are rapidly learning that microbiomes have an outsized role in fitness of the vast majority of the plants and animals that host them. Yet, we are still in the early stages of understanding how these microbiome effects scale to higher-order ecological process. In particular, despite the thousands of papers published on interactions between soil microbiomes and their plant hosts, research linking soil microbiomes to host plant demography using demographic modeling approaches (i.e. matrix or integral projection models) has been conspicuously absent. Filling this gap will provide an important link connecting microbial effects to community and ecosystem-level outcomes, and carries particular importance for the conservation of imperiled species and preservation of biodiversity. In this manuscript, we investigate how soil microbiomes affect population growth of an endangered plant by integrating manipulative bioassays with 6,000 seeds, long-term multidecadal censusing data (>20 yr, >38,000 observations), and cutting edge integral projection modeling. Importantly, we find the first evidence that soil microbes not only boost population growth of the plant, but are required for persistence of an endangered species. This finding has critical implications for conservation of imperiled species and demonstrates that soil microbes are essential for the preservation of biodiversity.

Technical Abstract: Microbiomes can dramatically alter individual plant performance, yet how these effects influence higher order processes is not well resolved. In particular, little is known about how microbiome effects on individual plants affect plant population dynamics, a question particularly critical to imperiled species conservation. Here, we integrate bioassays, multidecadal demographic data, and integral projection modeling to determine, for the first time, the soil microbiome’s role in plant population dynamics. The soil microbiome boosted population growth rates (') of the endangered Hypericum cumulicola by 13% on average. This benefit proved the difference between population growth or decline for 76% of patches, particularly those in stressful, high elevation habitat. Furthermore, the soil microbiome explained 47% of the variation in patches’ ', substantially more than that attributed to abiotic variables. Our results demonstrate that soil microbiomes can significantly affect plant population growth and persistence, and support the incorporation of soil microbiomes into conservation planning.