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Plant-soil feedbacks are interactions between plants and soil microbes which affect plant community structure. Plants alter the composition of soil microbial communities, which in turn have species-specific effects on nearby plants, either as pathogens or mutualists. Feedbacks are the net result of these interactions, which often discourage plants from establishing near members of the same species, increasing local diversity. Despite the well-established importance of plant-soil feedbacks in many habitats, the microbial communities that drive them have not been characterized. I used next-generation DNA sequencing to quantify fungal communities under seven grassland plants and examined the impacts of those communities on seed germination. Negative feedbacks were detected as decreased germination in soil conditioned by conspecific plants compared to germination in heterospecific soil. I found that plant identity strongly influenced fungal community composition and diversity, and that conspecific soil affected the germination of two seed species. The results of this study suggest that plants alter soil microbial communities, that plant-soil feedbacks can affect seed germination, and that those feedbacks are driven in part by host-specific soil fungi. Furthermore, I show that metagenomic sequencing of the soil microbiome can be a powerful tool in the study of plant-microbe interactions and their effects on plant communities.
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Miller, Elizabeth Claire, "Plants alter soil fungal communities that have species-specific effects on seed germination" (2018). Senior Projects Spring 2018. 2.