• Global Warming:

    the threat of a permafrost Carbon – climate feedback

  • We develop and improve

    stable isotopes techniques for ecological applications

  • Plants, fungi and bacteria interact

    at the root-soil interface

  • Probing the future:

    Climate Change experiments

  • Soil is fundamental to human life

  • Tropical rainforests

    hold the key to global net primary productivity

TER News

Latest publications

Rapid transfer of plant photosynthates to soil bacteria via ectomycorrhizal hyphae and its interaction with nitrogen availability

Plant roots release recent photosynthates into the rhizosphere, accelerating decomposition of organic matter by saprotrophic soil microbes (’rhizosphere priming effect’) which consequently increases nutrient availability for plants. However, about 90% of all higher plant species are mycorrhizal, transferring a significant fraction of their photosynthates directly to their fungal partners. Whether mycorrhizal fungi pass on plant-derived carbon (C) to bacteria in root-distant soil areas, i.e. incite a ‘hyphosphere priming effect’, is not known. Experimental evidence for C transfer from mycorrhizal hyphae to soil bacteria is limited, especially for ectomycorrhizal systems. As ectomycorrhizal fungi possess enzymatic capabilities to degrade organic matter themselves, it remains unclear whether they cooperate with soil bacteria by providing photosynthates, or compete for available nutrients.

To investigate a possible C transfer from ectomycorrhizal hyphae to soil bacteria, and its response to changing nutrient availability, we planted young beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) into ‘split-root’ boxes, dividing their root systems into two disconnected soil compartments. Each of these compartments was separated from a litter compartment by a mesh penetrable for fungal hyphae, but not for roots. Plants were exposed to a 13C-CO2–labeled atmosphere, while 15N-labeled ammonium and amino acids were added to one side of the split-root system.

We found a rapid transfer of recent photosynthates via ectomycorrhizal hyphae to bacteria in root-distant soil areas. Fungal and bacterial phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) biomarkers were significantly enriched in hyphae-exclusive compartments 24 h after 13C-CO2–labeling. Isotope imaging with nanometer-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) allowed for the first time in situ visualization of plant-derived C and N taken up by extraradical fungal hyphae, and in microbial cells thriving on hyphal surfaces. When N was added to the litter compartments, bacterial biomass and the amount of incorporated 13C strongly declined. Interestingly, this effect was also observed in adjacent soil compartments where added N was only available for bacteria through hyphal transport, indicating that ectomycorrhizal fungi were acting on soil bacteria. Together, our results demonstrate that (i) ectomycorrhizal hyphae rapidly transfer plant-derived C to bacterial communities in root-distant areas, and (ii) this transfer promptly responds to changing soil nutrient conditions.

Gorka S, Dietrich M, Mayerhofer W, Gabriel R, Wiesenbauer J, Martin V, Zheng Q, Imai B, Prommer J, Weidinger M, Schweiger P, Eichorst SA, Wagner M, Richter A, Schintlmeister A, Woebken D, Kaiser C
2019 - Frontiers Microbioly, in press

Root exudation of primary metabolites: mechanisms and their roles in plant responses to environmental stimuli

Root exudation is an important process determining plant interactions with the soil environment. Many studies have linked this process to soil nutrient mobilization. Yet, it remains unresolved how exudation is controlled and how exactly and under what circumstances plants benefit from exudation. The majority of root exudates include primary metabolites (sugars, amino acids and organic acids) believed to be passively lost from the root and used by rhizosphere-dwelling microbes. In this review, we synthetize recent advances in ecology and plant biology to explain and propose mechanisms by which root exudation of primary metabolites is controlled, and what role their exudation plays in plant nutrient acquisition strategies. Specifically, we propose a novel conceptual framework for root exudates. This framework is built upon two main concepts: (i) root exudation of primary metabolites is driven by diffusion, with plants and microbes both modulating concentration gradients and therefore diffusion rates to soil depending on their nutritional status; (ii) exuded metabolite concentrations can be sensed at the root tip and signals are translated to modify root architecture. The flux of primary metabolites through root exudation is mostly located at the root tip, where the lack of cell differentiation favors diffusion of metabolites to the soil. We show examples of how the root tip senses concentration changes of exuded metabolites and translate that into signals to modify root growth. Plants can modify the concentration of metabolites either by controlling source/sink processes or by expressing and regulating efflux carriers, therefore challenging the idea of root exudation as a purely unregulated passive process. Through root exudate flux, plants can locally enhance concentrations of many common metabolites which can serve as sensors and integrators of the plant nutritional status and of the nutrient availability in the surrounding environment. Plant-associated micro-organisms also constitute a strong sink for plant carbon thereby increasing concentration gradients of metabolites and affecting root exudation. Understanding the mechanisms of, and the effects that, environmental stimuli have on the magnitude and type of root exudation will ultimately improve our knowledge of processes determining soil CO2 emissions, ecosystem functioning and how to improve the sustainability of agricultural production.

2019 - Frontiers in Plant Science, in press

Novel high-throughput approach to determine key processes of soil organic nitrogen cycling: Gross protein depolymerization and microbial amino acid uptake

Proteins comprise the largest soil N reservoir but cannot be taken up directly by microorganisms and plants due to size constraints and stabilization of proteins in organo-mineral associations. Therefore the cleavage of this high molecular weight organic N to smaller soluble compounds as amino acids is a key step in the terrestrial N cycle. In the last years two isotope pool dilution approaches have been successfully established to measure gross rates of protein depolymerization and microbial amino acid uptake in soils. However, both require laborious sample preparation and analyses, which limits sample throughput. Therefore, we here present a novel isotope pool dilution approach based on the addition of 15N-labeled amino acids to soils and subsequent concentration and 15N analysis by the oxidation of α-amino groups to NO2 and further reduction to N2O, followed by purge-and-trap isotope ratio mass spectrometry (PT-IRMS). We applied this method in mesocosm experiments with forest and meadow soils as well as with a cropland soil amended with either organic C (cellulose) or organic N (bovine serum albumin). To measure direct organic N mineralization to NH4+, the latter was captured in acid traps and analyzed by an elemental analyzer coupled to an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (EA-IRMS). Our results demonstrate that the proposed method provides fast and precise measurements of at%15N even at low amino acid concentrations, allows high sample throughput and enables parallel estimations of instantaneous organic N mineralization rates.

Noll L, zhang S, Wanek W
2019 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 130: 73-81

Lecture series

How to meet the Paris 2°C target: Which are the main constraints that will need to be overcome?

Ivan Janssens
Centre of Excellence of Global Change Ecology, University of Antwerp, Belgium
12:00 h
Lecture Hall HS2 (UZA 1), Althanstraße 14, 1090 Vienna

Soil C dynamics –when are microbial communities in control?

Naoise Nunan
Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences IEES Paris, France
12:00 h
Lecture Hall HS2 (UZA 1), Althanstraße 14, 1090 Vienna

When are Mycorrhizas Mutualisms?

Nancy Collins Johnson
Northern Arizona University, USA
16:15 h
Hörsaal 2 (UZA 1), Althanstraße 14, 1090 Wien