Plant and Soil

, Volume 330, Issue 1–2, pp 393–405 | Cite as

Serpentine soil has little influence on the root-associated microbial community composition of the serpentine tolerant grass species Avenula sulcata

  • Michael S. Fitzsimons
  • R. Michael Miller
Regular Article


Soil chemistry is a known influence on plant species distribution. Serpentine soils provide a striking example of this due to their discrete nature and long-studied influence on plant communities. Characterized by high levels of heavy metals and low levels of nutrients, they present a challenge for most plant species and allow only a relatively restricted set of species to grow. We do not yet fully understand the suite of adaptations present in serpentine endemics allowing them thrive where other plant species perform poorly or not at all. In this paper we explore the possibility that serpentine plants interact with a unique set of microbial endophytes, which allow them to make a living on this challenging substrate. To examine broad-scale patterns of microbial community composition we used phospholipid fatty acid analysis. To focus more narrowly on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi community composition we used 18S rDNA markers specific to these fungi. We found only very weak evidence for a relationship with distinct microbial communities using either technique and no evidence to show increased reliance on AMF by serpentine plants. Our results indicate that adaptation of plants to serpentine soil does not involve adaptation to a unique community of soil mutualists.


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) 18S rDNA Microbial ecology Phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA) 



We thank Sara Branco for all her help in navigating Portugal and motivating an interest in serpentine soils, Dr. Anabella Martins for providing housing and company in Bragança, and Dr. Carlos Aguiar for his help in identifying plants. We would also like to thank the Escola Superior Agraria de Braganca for allowing use of laboratory space and equipment. We would like to thank the Pritzker lab for Molecular Systematics and Evolution at the Field Museum (Chicago, IL) for space and resources to complete the project. We thank Drs. Peter Avis and Kevin Feldheim for generating the Taq DNA polymerase. We thank Zhanna Yermakov and Cheryl Krol for their helping with PLFA analysis. We thank Tim Wootton for help in manuscript preparation. Finally, we thank the Garden Club of America of America Fellowship in Ecological Restoration and the University of Chicago Hinds Fund for Evolutionary Biology for funding. RMM’s participation was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Climate Change Research Division under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology & EvolutionUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Argonne National LaboratoryBiosciences DivisionArgonneUSA
  3. 3.Los Alamos National LaboratoryBioscience Division, MS-M888Los AlamosUSA

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