In a field experiment we investigated the influence of the environmental filters soil type (i.e. three contrasting soils) and plant species (i.e. lettuce and potato) identity on rhizosphere community assembly of Cercozoa, a dominant group of mostly bacterivorous soil protists. Plant species (14%) and rhizosphere origin (vs bulk soil) with 13%, together explained four times more variation in cercozoan beta diversity than the three soil types (7% explained variation). Our results clearly confirm the existence of plant species-specific protist communities. Network analyses of bacteria-Cercozoa rhizosphere communities identified scale-free small world topologies, indicating mechanisms of self-organization. While the assembly of rhizosphere bacterial communities is bottom-up controlled through the resource supply from root (secondary) metabolites, our results support the hypothesis that the net effect may depend on the strength of top-down control by protist grazers. Since grazing of protists has a strong impact on the composition and functioning of bacteria communities, protists expand the repertoire of plant genes by functional traits, and should be considered as 'protist microbiomes' in analogy to 'bacterial microbiomes'.
Keywords: Cercozoa; Protists; bacteria; microbiome; rhizosphere; scale-free small world networks.
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