Root exudate composition reflects drought severity gradient in blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)

Journal Article
Scientific Reports, vol. 12, iss. 1, 2022
Danielle E. M. Ulrich, Chaevien S. Clendinen, Franklin Alongi, Rebecca C. Mueller, Rosalie K. Chu, Jason Toyoda, La Verne Gallegos-Graves, Hannah M. Goemann, Brent Peyton, Sanna Sevanto, John Dunbar
AbstractPlant survival during environmental stress greatly affects ecosystem carbon (C) cycling, and plant–microbe interactions are central to plant stress survival. The release of C-rich root exudates is a key mechanism plants use to manage their microbiome, attracting beneficial microbes and/or suppressing harmful microbes to help plants withstand environmental stress. However, a critical knowledge gap is how plants alter root exudate concentration and composition under varying stress levels. In a greenhouse study, we imposed three drought treatments (control, mild, severe) on blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis Kunth Lag. Ex Griffiths), and measured plant physiology and root exudate concentration and composition using GC–MS, NMR, and FTICR. With increasing drought severity, root exudate total C and organic C increased concurrently with declining predawn leaf water potential and photosynthesis. Root exudate composition mirrored the physiological gradient of drought severity treatments. Specific compounds that are known to alter plant drought responses and the rhizosphere microbiome mirrored the drought severity-induced root exudate compositional gradient. Despite reducing C uptake, these plants actively invested C to root exudates with increasing drought severity. Patterns of plant physiology and root exudate concentration and composition co-varied along a gradient of drought severity.