Synergistic Effects of Soil Microbes on Solidago canadensis Depend on Water and Nutrient Availability


Soil microbes may greatly affect plant growth. While plants are commonly associated with diverse communities of soil microbes, complementary roles of different microbial communities that may stimulate synergistic effects on plant growth are not adequately tested. Also, such synergistic effects may vary with environmental conditions such as soil nutrient and water availability. We conducted a greenhouse experiment with a widespread clonal plant Solidago canadensis. The experiment was a factorial design with four levels of soil microbial inoculation (fresh soil inocula from grasslands in northern and southern China that were expected to differ in soil microbial composition, a mixture of the two fresh soil inocula, and a sterilized mixed inoculum control), two levels of nutrient availability (low vs. high), and two levels of water supply (low vs. high, i.e., 1376 vs. 352 mm per year). Irrespective of water supply and nutrient availability, total, aboveground, and belowground mass of S. canadensis were generally higher when the plant grew in soil inoculated with a mixture of soil microbes from the south and north of China (in the mixed inoculum treatment) than when it grew in soil inoculated with soil microbes from only the north or the south or the sterilized control. Such effects of soil microbes on total and aboveground mass were stronger under high than under low nutrient availability and also under high than under low water supply. Our results suggest that interactions of different soil microbial communities can result in a synergistic effect on plant growth and such a synergistic effect depends on environmental conditions. The findings shed light on the importance of plant–microbe interactions during the spreading of some plant species in face of increased atmospheric nutrient deposition coupled with altered rainfall pattern due to global change.

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We thank Dr. Ayub M.O. Odour (Technical University of Kenya, Kenya) and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an early version of the manuscript. We also thank Miss Angella Nabasirye (Taizhou University) for her assistance with the experiment.


This study was supported by the NSFC (31761123001, 31870610) and the Ten Thousand Talent Program of Zhejiang Province (2018R52016) and the Joint Fund of Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation (LTZ20C030001).

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Michael Opoku Adomako (MOA) conceived the idea for the experiment; MOA performed the experiment and collected the data; MOA, Fei-Hai Yu (FHY), and Wei Xue (WX) performed data analyses; MOA drafted the manuscript with input from FHY, Min Tang (MT) and WX; and FHY contributed substantially towards the revision of the manuscript with input from Dao-Lin Du.

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Correspondence to Dao-Lin Du or Fei-Hai Yu.

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Adomako, M.O., Xue, W., Tang, M. et al. Synergistic Effects of Soil Microbes on Solidago canadensis Depend on Water and Nutrient Availability. Microb Ecol (2020).

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  • Drought
  • Environmental context
  • Plant–microbe interactions
  • Soil microbial communities
  • Synergistic interactions