Background: Stress-induced hormones are essential for plants to modulate their microbiota and dynamically adjust to the environment. Despite the emphasis of the role of the phytohormone ethylene in the plant physiological response to heterospecific neighbour detection, less is known about how this activated signal mediates focal plant rhizosphere microbiota to enhance plant fitness. Here, using 3 years of peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.), a legume, and cyanide-containing cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) intercropping and peanut monocropping field, pot and hydroponic experiments in addition to exogenous ethylene application and soil incubation experiments, we found that ethylene, a cyanide-derived signal, is associated with the chemical identification of neighbouring cassava and the microbial re-assemblage in the peanut rhizosphere.
Results: Ethylene production in peanut roots can be triggered by cyanide production of neighbouring cassava plants. This gaseous signal alters the microbial composition and re-assembles the microbial co-occurrence network of peanut by shifting the abundance of an actinobacterial species, Catenulispora sp., which becomes a keystone in the intercropped peanut rhizosphere. The re-assembled rhizosphere microbiota provide more available nutrients to peanut roots and support seed production.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that root ethylene acts as a signal with a dual role. It plays a role in perceiving biochemical cues from interspecific neighbours, and also has a regulatory function in mediating the rhizosphere microbial assembly, thereby enhancing focal plant fitness by improving seed production. This discovery provides a promising direction to develop novel intercropping strategies for targeted manipulations of the rhizosphere microbiome through phytohormone signals. Video abstract.
Keywords: Chemical cue; Cyanide; Ethylene signal; Interspecific interaction; Neighbour detection; Plant fitness; Rhizosphere microbial assemblage.