Habitats Within the Plant Root Differ in Bacterial Network Topology and Taxonomic Assortativity

Connor R. Fitzpatrick, Julia Copeland, Pauline W. Wang, David S. Guttman, Peter M. Kotanen, Marc T. J. Johnson

Mol Plant Microbe Interact 2023 Mar;36(3):165-175. doi: 10.1094/MPMI-09-22-0188-R.

PMID: 36463399


The root microbiome is composed of distinct epiphytic (rhizosphere) and endophytic (endosphere) habitats. Differences in abiotic and biotic factors drive differences in microbial community diversity and composition between these habitats, though how they shape the interactions among community members is unknown. Here, we coupled a large-scale characterization of the rhizosphere and endosphere bacterial communities of 30 plant species across two watering treatments with co-occurrence network analysis to understand how root habitats and soil moisture shape root bacterial network properties. We used a novel bootstrapping procedure and null network modeling to overcome some of the limitations associated with microbial co-occurrence network construction and analysis. Endosphere networks had elevated node betweenness centrality versus the rhizosphere, indicating greater overall connectivity among core bacterial members of the root endosphere. Taxonomic assortativity was higher in the endosphere, whereby positive co-occurrence was more likely between bacteria within the same phylum while negative co-occurrence was more likely between bacterial taxa from different phyla. This taxonomic assortativity could be driven by positive and negative interactions among members of the same or different phylum, respectively, or by similar niche preferences associated with phylum rank among root inhabiting bacteria across plant host species. In contrast to the large differences between root habitats, drought had limited effects on network properties but did result in a higher proportion of shared co-occurrences between rhizosphere and endosphere networks. Our study points to fundamentally different ecological processes shaping bacterial co-occurrence across root habitats.

Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.