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Keywords:

  • abiotic  stress;
  • Brassica rapa;
  • drought stress;
  • microbial ecology;
  • natural selection;
  • phenotypic selection analysis;
  • plant–microbe interaction;
  • species interactions

Summary

  • Below-ground microbial communities influence plant diversity, plant productivity, and plant community composition. Given these strong ecological effects, are interactions with below-ground microbes also important for understanding natural selection on plant traits?
  • Here, we manipulated below-ground microbial communities and the soil moisture environment on replicated populations of Brassica rapa to examine how microbial community structure influences selection on plant traits and mediates plant responses to abiotic environmental stress.
  • In soils with experimentally simplified microbial communities, plants were smaller, had reduced chlorophyll content, produced fewer flowers, and were less fecund when compared with plant populations grown in association with more complex soil microbial communities. Selection on plant growth and phenological traits also was stronger when plants were grown in simplified, less diverse soil microbial communities, and these effects typically were consistent across soil moisture treatments.
  • Our results suggest that microbial community structure affects patterns of natural selection on plant traits. Thus, the below-ground microbial community can influence evolutionary processes, just as recent studies have demonstrated that microbial diversity can influence plant community and ecosystem processes.