Soil moisture incidentally selects for microbes that facilitate locally adaptive plant response

Kevin D. Ricks, Anthony C. Yannarell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While a plant's microbiome can facilitate adaptive phenotypes, the plant's role in selecting for these microbes is unclear. Do plants actively recruit microbes beneficial to their current environment, or are beneficial microbes only an incidental by-product of microbial adaptation? We addressed these questions through a multigeneration greenhouse experiment, selecting for either dry- or wet-adapted soil microbial communities, either with or without plants. After three plant generations, we conducted a full reciprocal transplant of each soil community onto wet- and dry-treated plants. We found that plants generally benefited from soil microbes, and this benefit was greater whenever their current watering conditions matched the microbes' historical watering conditions. Principally, the plant's presence was not necessary in the historical treatments for this environmental matching benefit to emerge. Moreover, we found microbes from droughted soils could better tolerate drought stress. Taken together, these results suggest that the moisture environment selects for microbes that benefit plants under those specific moisture conditions, and that these beneficial properties arise as a by-product of microbial adaptation to the watering environment and not as a co-adapting plant-microbe system. This work highlights that understanding the selective agents on these plant-associated microbes will lead to a better understanding of plant adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20230469
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2001
StatePublished - Jun 28 2023


  • adaptation
  • by-products
  • drought
  • plant-microbe interactions
  • selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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