There is interest in understanding how cultivation, plant genotype, climate and soil conditions influence the biogeography of root nodule bacterial communities of legumes. For crops from regions with relict wild populations, this is of even greater interest because the effects of cultivation on symbiont communities can be revealed, which is of particular interest for bacteria such as rhizobia. Here, we determined the structure of root nodule bacterial communities of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), a leguminous shrub endemic to South Africa. We related the community dissimilarities of the root nodule bacteria of 18 paired cultivated and wild rooibos populations to pairwise geographical distances, plant ecophysiological characteristics and soil physicochemical parameters. Using next-generation sequencing data, we identified region-, cultivation- and farm-specific operational taxonomic units for four distinct classes of root nodule bacterial communities, dominated by members of the genus Mesorhizobium. We found that while bacterial richness was locally increased by organic cultivation, strong biogeographical differentiation in the bacterial communities of wild rooibos disappeared with cultivation of one single cultivar across its entire cultivation range. This implies that expanding rooibos farming has the potential to endanger wild rooibos populations through the homogenisation of root nodule bacterial diversity.
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- microbial biogeography
- distance-decay relationship
- crop wild relatives