The symbiotic association between legume plants (Fabaceae) and nitrogen-fixing rhizobia is a classic system of cooperation, but with largely unexplored differences among species in life history traits. Rhizobia transform physiologically and morphologically into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids inside host nodules. The transformation is terminal (bacteroids are swollen and apparently nonreproductive) in some legume host species but not others, regardless of rhizobial genotype. The phylogenetic distribution of this host trait in the Papilionoideae subfamily of legumes suggests that the common ancestor of the papilionoids did not host terminally differentiated bacteroids and there appear to have been at least five independent origins of hosts imposing terminal differentiation on bacteroids. To consider possible advantages of this host trait, I compared the symbiotic efficiency of terminally and non-terminally differentiated bacteroids of a single rhizobial strain with dual-host capabilities. In the two available dual-host cases, I found greater fixation efficiency (N2 fixation per CO2 respiration) as well as plant return (host biomass) on investment per nodule mass in the hosts with terminal bacteroid differentiation than in those without. This suggests that host traits leading to terminal bacteroid differentiation may have been derived multiple times because of increased net symbiotic benefits to the host. Lastly, I tested whether legumes hosting terminally differentiated bacteroids impose sanctions, i.e. reduce benefits to the undifferentiated reproductive clonemates of less-mutualistic bacteroids in the same nodule. Host sanctions could maintain the evolutionary stability of the symbiosis despite "cheaters" - less-mutualistic rhizobia that potentially benefit from the fixation by other rhizobia sharing the same individual plant host. Legume roots were split so that half of each nodulated root system was exposed to nitrogen-free atmosphere (Ar:O2) to simulate cheating and the other half was in normal air (N2:O2). Rhizobial fitness (rhizobia per nodule) was compared between the two halves. A clear host sanctions effect in peas and alfalfa demonstrated that terminal differentiation of bacteroids does not compromise a legume host's ability to sanction. Differences in rhizobial life history suggest various rhizobial symbiotic traits for cooperation and cheating, perhaps leading to different mechanisms in different legume host species that maintain stability of the mutualism.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2010. Major: Plant Biological Sciences. Advisor: R. Ford Denison. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 114 pages.
Terminal differentiation of symbiotic rhizobia in certain legume species and its implications for legume-rhizobia coevolution..
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