Background: Harnessing beneficial microbes presents a promising strategy to optimize plant growth and agricultural sustainability. Little is known to which extent and how specifically soil and plant microbiomes can be manipulated through different cropping practices. Here, we investigated soil and wheat root microbial communities in a cropping system experiment consisting of conventional and organic managements, both with different tillage intensities.
Results: While microbial richness was marginally affected, we found pronounced cropping effects on community composition, which were specific for the respective microbiomes. Soil bacterial communities were primarily structured by tillage, whereas soil fungal communities responded mainly to management type with additional effects by tillage. In roots, management type was also the driving factor for bacteria but not for fungi, which were generally determined by changes in tillage intensity. To quantify an "effect size" for microbiota manipulation, we found that about 10% of variation in microbial communities was explained by the tested cropping practices. Cropping sensitive microbes were taxonomically diverse, and they responded in guilds of taxa to the specific practices. These microbes also included frequent community members or members co-occurring with many other microbes in the community, suggesting that cropping practices may allow manipulation of influential community members.
Conclusions: Understanding the abundance patterns of cropping sensitive microbes presents the basis towards developing microbiota management strategies for smart farming. For future targeted microbiota management-e.g., to foster certain microbes with specific agricultural practices-a next step will be to identify the functional traits of the cropping sensitive microbes.
Keywords: Cropping practices; Microbial co-occurrence; Microbiota management; Network analysis; Smart farming; Soil and root microbiomes.