Frankia Diversity in Host Plant Root Nodules Is Independent of Abundance or Relative Diversity of Frankia Populations in Corresponding Rhizosphere Soils
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Actinorhizal plants form nitrogen-fixing root nodules in symbiosis with soil-dwelling actinobacteria within the genus Frankia, and specific Frankia taxonomic clusters nodulate plants in corresponding host infection groups. In same-soil microcosms, we observed that some host species were nodulated (Alnus glutinosa, Alnus cordata, Shepherdia argentea, Casuarina equisetifolia) while others were not (Alnus viridis, Hippophaë rhamnoides). Nodule populations were represented by eight different sequences of nifH gene fragments. Two of these sequences characterized frankiae in S. argentea nodules, and three others characterized frankiae in A. glutinosa nodules. Frankiae in A. cordata nodules were represented by five sequences, one of which was also found in nodules from A. glutinosa and C. equisetifolia, while another was detected in nodules from A. glutinosa Quantitative PCR assays showed that vegetation generally increased the abundance of frankiae in soil, independently of the target gene (i.e., nifH or the 23S rRNA gene). Targeted Illumina sequencing of Frankia-specific nifH gene fragments detected 24 unique sequences from rhizosphere soils, 4 of which were also found in nodules, while the remaining 4 sequences in nodules were not found in soils. Seven of the 24 sequences from soils represented >90% of the reads obtained in most samples; the 2 most abundant sequences from soils were not found in root nodules, and only 2 of the sequences from soils were detected in nodules. These results demonstrate large differences between detectable Frankia populations in soil and those in root nodules, suggesting that root nodule formation is not a function of the abundance or relative diversity of specific Frankia populations in soils.
IMPORTANCE The nitrogen-fixing actinobacterium Frankia forms root nodules on actinorhizal plants, with members of specific Frankia taxonomic clusters nodulating plants in corresponding host infection groups. We assessed Frankia diversity in root nodules of different host plant species, and we related specific populations to the abundance and relative distribution of indigenous frankiae in rhizosphere soils. Large differences were observed between detectable Frankia populations in soil and those in root nodules, suggesting that root nodule formation is not a function of the abundance or relative diversity of specific Frankia populations in soils but rather results from plants potentially selecting frankiae from the soil for root nodule formation. These data also highlight the necessity of using a combination of different assessment tools so as to adequately address methodological constraints that could produce contradictory data sets.