Heterospecific neighbor plants impact root microbiome diversity and molecular function of root fungi.
Within the forest community, competition and facilitation between adjacent-growing conspecific and heterospecific plants are mediated by interactions involving common mycorrhizal networks. The ability of plants to alter their neighbor's microbiome is well documented, but the molecular biology of plant-fungal interactions during competition and facilitation has not been previously examined. We used a common soil-plant bioassay experiment to study molecular plant-microbial interactions among rhizosphere communities associated with Pinus taeda (native host) and Populus trichocarpa (non-native host). Gene expression of interacting fungal and bacterial rhizosphere communities was compared among three plant-pairs: Populus growing with Populus, Populus with Pinus, and Pinus with Pinus. Our results demonstrate that heterospecific plant partners affect the assembly of root microbiomes, including the changes in the structure of host specific community. Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals that several species of ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) and saprotrophic fungi exhibit different patterns of functional and regulatory gene expression with these two plant hosts. Heterospecific plants affect the transcriptional expression pattern of EMF host-specialists (e.g., Pinus-associated Suillus spp.) on both plant species, mainly including the genes involved in the transportation of amino acids, carbohydrates, and inorganic ions. Alteration of root microbiome by neighboring plants may help regulate basic plant physiological processes via modulation of molecular functions in the root microbiome.