DOI: 10.7554/elife.84988 ISSN: 2050-084X

Plant secondary metabolite-dependent plant-soil feedbacks can improve crop yield in the field

Valentin Gfeller, Jan Waelchli, Stephanie Pfister, Gabriel Deslandes-Hérold, Fabio Mascher, Gaetan Glauser, Yvo Aeby, Adrien Mestrot, Christelle AM Robert, Klaus Schlaeppi, Matthias Erb
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine
  • General Neuroscience

Plant secondary metabolites that are released into the rhizosphere alter biotic and abiotic soil properties, which in turn affect the performance of other plants. How this type of plant-soil feedback affects agricultural productivity and food quality in the field in the context of crop rotations is unknown. Here, we assessed the performance, yield and food quality of three winter wheat varieties growing in field plots whose soils had been conditioned by either wild type or benzoxazinoid-deficient bx1 maize mutant plants. Following maize cultivation, we detected benzoxazinoid-dependent chemical and microbial fingerprints in the soil. The benzoxazinoid fingerprint was still visible during wheat growth, but the microbial fingerprint was no longer detected. Wheat emergence, tillering, growth, and biomass increased in wild type conditioned soils compared to bx1 mutant conditioned soils. Weed cover was similar between soil conditioning treatments, but insect herbivore abundance decreased in benzoxazinoid-conditioned soils. Wheat yield was increased by over 4% without a reduction in grain quality in benzoxazinoid-conditioned soils. This improvement was directly associated with increased germination and tillering. Taken together, our experiments provide evidence that soil conditioning by plant secondary metabolite producing plants can increase yield via plant-soil feedbacks under agronomically realistic conditions. If this phenomenon holds true across different soils and environments, optimizing root exudation chemistry could be a powerful, genetically tractable strategy to enhance crop yields without additional inputs.

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