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The "soil microbial loop" is not always needed to explain protozoan stimulation of plants

Ekelund F., Saj S., Vestergard M., Bertaux J., Mikola J.. 2009. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 41 : p. 2336-2342.

DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2009.08.019

Protozoa stimulate plant growth, but we do not completely understand the underlying mechanisms, and different hypotheses seek to explain this phenomenon. To test these hypotheses, we grew the grass Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) in pots with soil, which contained either (1) no organisms but bacteria ¿ or (2) bacteria and protozoa. Half of the pots received a glucose treatment so as to mimic an additional root exudation.We measured plant growth and plant nitrogen uptake, along with various microbial pools and processes that support plant growth. Protozoan presence significantly enhanced soil nitrogen mineralization, plant nitrogen uptake from organic nitrogen sources, plant nitrogen content, and plant growth. By contrast, we found no evidence that glucose addition, mimicking root exudation, increased soil nitrogen availability and plant nitrogen uptake. Moreover, although protozoan presence affected bacterial community structure, it did not affect the proportion of IAA-producing bacteria in the community or plant root morphology. These results refute the ''soil microbial loop'' hypotheses, which suggest that protozoan stimulation of plant growth results from complex interactions between plant roots, bacteria and protozoa. Our experiment thus favours the simple explanation that increased nitrogen availability is the key factor behind the positive protozoan effect on plant growth. To exploit natural resources in an efficient and environmentally friendly way, we need to understand in detail the functioning of ecosystems. This study stresses that to achieve this, it is still urgent, besides investigating intricate food-web and signal compound interactions, also to focus on the basic stoichiometric and energetic aspects of organisms.

Mots-clés : holcus lanatus; protozoa; croissance; rendement des cultures; propriété physicochimique du sol; interactions biologiques; aia; teneur en azote; pays-bas

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