Frankia and Alnus rubra canopy roots: An assessment of genetic diversity, propagule availability, and effects on soil nitrogen

Peter G. Kennedy, Jesse L. Schouboe, Rachel H. Rogers, Marjorie G. Weber, Nalini M. Nadkarni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The ecological importance of microbial symbioses in terrestrial soils is widely recognized, but their role in soils that accumulate in forest canopies is almost entirely unknown. To address this gap, this study investigated the Frankia-Alnus rubra symbiosis in canopy and forest floor roots at Olympic National Park, WA, USA. Sixteen mature A. rubra trees were surveyed and Frankia genetic diversity in canopy and forest floor nodules was assessed with sequence-based nifH analyses. A seedling bioassay experiment was conducted to determine Frankia propagule availability in canopy and forest floor soils. Total soil nitrogen from both environments was also quantified. Nodules were present in the canopies of nine of the 16 trees sampled. Across the study area, Frankia canopy and forest floor assemblages were similar, with both habitats containing the same two genotypes. The composition of forest floor and canopy genotypes on the same tree was not always identical, however, suggesting that dispersal was not a strictly local phenomenon. Frankia seedling colonization was similar in canopy soils regardless of the presence of nodules as well as in forest floor soils, indicating that dispersal was not likely to be a major limiting factor. The total soil nitrogen of canopy soils was higher than that of forest floor soils, but the presence of Frankia nodules in canopy soils did not significantly alter soil nitrogen levels. Overall, this study indicates that the Frankia-A. rubra symbiosis is similar in canopy and forest floor environments. Because canopy roots are exposed to different environmental conditions within very small spatial areas and because those areas can be easily manipulated (e. g., fertilizer or watering treatments), they present microbial ecologists with a unique arena to examine root-microbe interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)214-220
Number of pages7
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

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