Agronomy 2022, 12(1), 199; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy12010199
Published: 14 January 2022
To secure high yield, tropical oil palm plantations are fertilized, and understory vegetation is controlled by chemical clearing with herbicides. These treatments cause a drastic turnover of soil microbes and cause loss of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. Here, we tested if reduced fertilization and weeding instead of conventional treatments restored beneficial ecological groups associated with roots. We conducted our study one year after the start of the reduced management in large-scale oil palm plantations. We hypothesized that reduced fertilizer application and weeding result in shifts of the root-associated species composition because changes in the management regimes affect belowground biomass and nutrients in soil and roots. Alternatively, we hypothesized that the legacy of massive soil fertilization and herbicide application preclude compositional shifts of root-associated biota within short time periods. We did not find any significant treatment effects on root nutrient contents, root biomass, and nutrients in soil. At the level of species (based on operational taxonomic units obtained by Illumina sequencing) or phyla, no significant effects of reduced management were observed. However, distinct functional groups showed early responses to the treatments: nematodes decreased in response to weeding; yeasts and ectomycorrhizal-multitrophic fungi increased under fertilizer treatments; arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increased under fertilizer reduction. Since the responsive ecological groups were represented by low sequence abundances, their responses were masked by very high sequence abundances of saprotrophic and pathotrophic fungi. Thus, the composition of the whole root-associated community was unaffected by reduced management. In conclusion, our results show that changes in management regimes start to re-wire critical constituents of soil–plant food webs.
Keywords: microbiome; mycorrhiza; plantation management; root biomass; sustainability; tropics