BACKGROUND: Soil microbiomes are increasingly acknowledged to affect plant functioning. Research in molecular model species Arabidopsis thaliana has given detailed insights of such plant-microbiome interactions. However, the circumstances under which natural A. thaliana plants have been studied so far might represent only a subset of A. thaliana's full ecological context and potential biotic diversity of its root-associated microbiome.
RESULTS: We collected A. thaliana root-associated soils from a secondary succession gradient covering 40 years of land abandonment. All field sites were situated on the same parent soil material and in the same climatic region. By sequencing the bacterial and fungal communities and soil abiotic analysis we discovered differences in both the biotic and abiotic composition of the root-associated soil of A. thaliana and these differences are in accordance with the successional class of the field sites. As the studied sites all have been under (former) agricultural use, and a climatic cline is absent, we were able to reveal a more complete variety of ecological contexts A. thaliana can appear and sustain in.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings lead to the conclusion that although A. thaliana is considered a pioneer plant species and previously almost exclusively studied in early succession and disturbed sites, plants can successfully establish in soils which have experienced years of ecological development. Thereby, A. thaliana can be exposed to a much wider variation in soil ecological context than is currently presumed. This knowledge opens up new opportunities to enhance our understanding of causal plant-microbiome interactions as A. thaliana cannot only grow in contrasting soil biotic and abiotic conditions along a latitudinal gradient, but also when those conditions vary along a secondary succession gradient. Future research could give insights in important plant factors to grow in more ecologically complex later-secondary succession soils, which is an impending direction of our current agricultural systems.