Competitive Traits Are More Important than Stress-Tolerance Traits in a Cadmium-Contaminated Rhizosphere: A Role for Trait Theory in Microbial Ecology Academic Article uri icon


  • Understanding how biotic and abiotic factors govern the assembly of rhizosphere-microbial communities is a long-standing goal in microbial ecology. In phytoremediation research, where plants are used to remediate heavy metal-contaminated soils, a deeper understanding of rhizosphere-microbial ecology is needed to fully exploit the potential of microbial-assisted phytoremediation. This study investigated whether Grime's competitor/stress-tolerator/ruderal (CSR) theory could be used to describe the impact of cadmium (Cd) and the presence of a Cd-accumulating plant, Carpobrotus rossii (Haw.) Schwantes, on the assembly of soil-bacterial communities using Illumina 16S rRNA profiling and the predictive metagenomic-profiling program, PICRUSt. Using predictions based on CSR theory, we hypothesized that Cd and the presence of a rhizosphere would affect community assembly. We predicted that the additional resource availability in the rhizosphere would enrich for competitive life strategists, while the presence of Cd would select for stress-tolerators. Traits identified as competitive followed CSR predictions, discriminating between rhizosphere and bulk-soil communities whilst stress-tolerance traits increased with Cd dose, but only in bulk-soil communities. These findings suggest that a bacterium's competitive attributes are critical to its ability to occupy and proliferate in a Cd-contaminated rhizosphere. Ruderal traits, which relate to community re-colonization potential, were synergistically decreased by the presence of the rhizosphere and Cd dose. Taken together this microcosm study suggests that the CSR theory is broadly applicable to microbial communities. Further work toward developing a simplified and robust strategy for microbial CSR classification will provide an ecologically meaningful framework to interpret community-level changes across a range of biomes.

publication date

  • 2018