Agricultural Microbiomes

Jean-Michel Ané
Achieving high yields has been the main challenge for growers since the domestication and cultivation of crops. With the growing world population, scientists and growers alike not only face the challenge of obtaining higher yields but also in maintaining soil quality to feed the world in a sustainable manner. To reach this ambitious goal, we need to understand the composition and function of microbial communities that affect crop health and productivity. The plant and soil microbiomes are likely a key component to both.
Crop rotations, tillage, and fungicides are three central tools of crop management. Since ancient times, growers have used crop rotation to reduce disease pressure and achieve the yield benefits typically seen after rotation with a different crop. Over the last few decades, agronomic research has also indicated that reduced tillage or no-tillage improves crop yields in a sustainable manner. Growers also use chemical control measures to manage pathogens – in particular, fungal pathogens that attack their crops. Recent research has shown that fungicides can provide significant benefits to growers in the Midwest. The benefits of these management practices have been studied for decades, but the degree to which soil and plant microbes contribute to these benefits remains unclear. The central research questions that will be addressed in this project are:
1. How do management practices (crop rotation, reduced tillage, and foliar fungicide application) affect the bacterial and fungal communities associated with the soil, roots, and leaves?
2. Can we link the benefits of these management practices to specific types of microbes (reduced abundance of pathogens) or characteristics (richness, diversity, evenness) of the microbial communities?