The Non-Legume Parasponia andersonii Mediates the Fitness of Nitrogen-Fixing Rhizobial Symbionts Under High Nitrogen Conditions

Simon E. Dupin*, René Geurts, E. Toby Kiers

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Organisms rely on symbiotic associations for metabolism, protection, and energy. However, these intimate partnerships can be vulnerable to exploitation. What prevents microbial mutualists from parasitizing their hosts? In legumes, there is evidence that hosts have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to manage their symbiotic rhizobia, but the generality and evolutionary origins of these control mechanisms are under debate. Here, we focused on the symbiosis between Parasponia hosts and N2-fixing rhizobium bacteria. Parasponia is the only non-legume lineage to have evolved a rhizobial symbiosis and thus provides an evolutionary replicate to test how rhizobial exploitation is controlled. A key question is whether Parasponia hosts can prevent colonization of rhizobia under high nitrogen conditions, when the contribution of the symbiont becomes nonessential. We grew Parasponia andersonii inoculated with Bradyrhizobium elkanii under four ammonium nitrate concentrations in a controlled growth chamber. We measured shoot and root dry weight, nodule number, nodule fresh weight, nodule volume. To quantify viable rhizobial populations in planta, we crushed nodules and determined colony forming units (CFU), as a rhizobia fitness proxy. We show that, like legumes and actinorhizal plants, P. andersonii is able to control nodule symbiosis in response to exogenous nitrogen. While the relative host growth benefits of inoculation decreased with nitrogen fertilization, our highest ammonium nitrate concentration (3.75 mM) was sufficient to prevent nodule formation on inoculated roots. Rhizobial populations were highest in nitrogen free medium. While we do not yet know the mechanism, our results suggest that control mechanisms over rhizobia are not exclusive to the legume clade.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1779
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2020


    • host control
    • nitrogen fertilizer
    • nitrogen fixing bacteria
    • nodulation
    • non-legume
    • Parasponia
    • plant nutrition
    • rhizobium fitness


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