Tracing rare stable isotopes from plant material through the ecosystem provides the most sensitive information about ecosystem processes; from CO2 fluxes and soil organic matter formation to small-scale stable-isotope biomarker probing. Coupling multiple stable isotopes such as 13C with 15N, 18O or 2H has the potential to reveal even more information about complex stoichiometric relationships during biogeochemical transformations. Isotope labeled plant material has been used in various studies of litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation1-4. From these and other studies, however, it has become apparent that structural components of plant material behave differently than metabolic components (i.e. leachable low molecular weight compounds) in terms of microbial utilization and long-term carbon storage5-7. The ability to study structural and metabolic components separately provides a powerful new tool for advancing the forefront of ecosystem biogeochemical studies. Here we describe a method for producing 13C and 15N labeled plant material that is either uniformly labeled throughout the plant or differentially labeled in structural and metabolic plant components.
Here, we present the construction and operation of a continuous 13C and 15N labeling chamber that can be modified to meet various research needs. Uniformly labeled plant material is produced by continuous labeling from seedling to harvest, while differential labeling is achieved by removing the growing plants from the chamber weeks prior to harvest. Representative results from growing Andropogon gerardii Kaw demonstrate the system's ability to efficiently label plant material at the targeted levels. Through this method we have produced plant material with a 4.4 atom%13C and 6.7 atom%15N uniform plant label, or material that is differentially labeled by up to 1.29 atom%13C and 0.56 atom%15N in its metabolic and structural components (hot water extractable and hot water residual components, respectively). Challenges lie in maintaining proper temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and light levels in an airtight 13C-CO2 atmosphere for successful plant production. This chamber description represents a useful research tool to effectively produce uniformly or differentially multi-isotope labeled plant material for use in experiments on ecosystem biogeochemical cycling.
13 Related JoVE Articles!
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Determination of Microbial Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Waters, Soils, and Sediments using High Throughput Microplate Assays
Institutions: The University of Mississippi.
Much of the nutrient cycling and carbon processing in natural environments occurs through the activity of extracellular enzymes released by microorganisms. Thus, measurement of the activity of these extracellular enzymes can give insights into the rates of ecosystem level processes, such as organic matter decomposition or nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization. Assays of extracellular enzyme activity in environmental samples typically involve exposing the samples to artificial colorimetric or fluorometric substrates and tracking the rate of substrate hydrolysis. Here we describe microplate based methods for these procedures that allow the analysis of large numbers of samples within a short time frame. Samples are allowed to react with artificial substrates within 96-well microplates or deep well microplate blocks, and enzyme activity is subsequently determined by absorption or fluorescence of the resulting end product using a typical microplate reader or fluorometer. Such high throughput procedures not only facilitate comparisons between spatially separate sites or ecosystems, but also substantially reduce the cost of such assays by reducing overall reagent volumes needed per sample.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological and Environmental Processes, Environmental Microbiology, Ecology, extracellular enzymes, freshwater microbiology, soil microbiology, microbial activity, enzyme activity
Design and Construction of an Urban Runoff Research Facility
Institutions: Texas A&M University, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
As the urban population increases, so does the area of irrigated urban landscape. Summer water use in urban areas can be 2-3x winter base line water use due to increased demand for landscape irrigation. Improper irrigation practices and large rainfall events can result in runoff from urban landscapes which has potential to carry nutrients and sediments into local streams and lakes where they may contribute to eutrophication. A 1,000 m2
facility was constructed which consists of 24 individual 33.6 m2
field plots, each equipped for measuring total runoff volumes with time and collection of runoff subsamples at selected intervals for quantification of chemical constituents in the runoff water from simulated urban landscapes. Runoff volumes from the first and second trials had coefficient of variability (CV) values of 38.2 and 28.7%, respectively. CV values for runoff pH, EC, and Na concentration for both trials were all under 10%. Concentrations of DOC, TDN, DON, PO4
, and Ca2+
had CV values less than 50% in both trials. Overall, the results of testing performed after sod installation at the facility indicated good uniformity between plots for runoff volumes and chemical constituents. The large plot size is sufficient to include much of the natural variability and therefore provides better simulation of urban landscape ecosystems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, urban runoff, landscapes, home lawns, turfgrass, St. Augustinegrass, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium
Measuring Fluxes of Mineral Nutrients and Toxicants in Plants with Radioactive Tracers
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Unidirectional influx and efflux of nutrients and toxicants, and their resultant net fluxes, are central to the nutrition and toxicology of plants. Radioisotope tracing is a major technique used to measure such fluxes, both within plants, and between plants and their environments. Flux data obtained with radiotracer protocols can help elucidate the capacity, mechanism, regulation, and energetics of transport systems for specific mineral nutrients or toxicants, and can provide insight into compartmentation and turnover rates of subcellular mineral and metabolite pools. Here, we describe two major radioisotope protocols used in plant biology: direct influx (DI) and compartmental analysis by tracer efflux (CATE). We focus on flux measurement of potassium (K+
) as a nutrient, and ammonia/ammonium (NH3
) as a toxicant, in intact seedlings of the model species barley (Hordeum vulgare
L.). These protocols can be readily adapted to other experimental systems (e.g.
, different species, excised plant material, and other nutrients/toxicants). Advantages and limitations of these protocols are discussed.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90,
influx, efflux, net flux, compartmental analysis, radiotracers, potassium, ammonia, ammonium
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
High and Low Throughput Screens with Root-knot Nematodes Meloidogyne spp.
Institutions: University of California, Riverside .
Root-knot nematodes (genus Meloidogyne
) are obligate plant parasites. They are extremely polyphagous and considered one of the most economically important plant parasitic nematodes. The microscopic second-stage juvenile (J2), molted once in the egg, is the infective stage. The J2s hatch from the eggs, move freely in the soil within a film of water, and locate root tips of suitable plant species. After penetrating the plant root, they migrate towards the vascular cylinder where they establish a feeding site and initiate feeding using their stylets. The multicellular feeding site is comprised of several enlarged multinuclear cells called 'giant cells' which are formed from cells that underwent karyokinesis (repeated mitosis) without cytokinesis. Neighboring pericycle cells divide and enlarge in size giving rise to a typical gall or root knot, the characteristic symptom of root-knot nematode infection. Once feeding is initiated, J2s become sedentary and undergo three additional molts to become adults. The adult female lays 150-250 eggs in a gelatinous matrix on or below the surface of the root. From the eggs new infective J2s hatch and start a new cycle. The root-knot nematode life cycle is completed in 4-6 weeks at 26-28°C.
Here we present the traditional protocol to infect plants, grown in pots, with root-knot nematodes and two methods for high-throughput assays. The first high-throughput method is used for plants with small seeds such as tomato while the second is for plants with large seeds such as cowpea and common bean. Large seeds support extended seedling growth with minimal nutrient supplement. The first high throughput assay utilizes seedlings grown in sand in trays while in the second assay plants are grown in pouches in the absence of soil. The seedling growth pouch is made of a 15.5 x 12.5cm paper wick, folded at the top to form a 2-cm-deep trough in which the seed or seedling is placed. The paper wick is contained inside a transparent plastic pouch. These growth pouches allow direct observation of nematode infection symptoms, galling of roots and egg mass production, under the surface of a transparent pouch. Both methods allow the use of the screened plants, after phenotyping, for crossing or seed production. An additional advantage of the use of growth pouches is the small space requirement because pouches are stored in plastic hanging folders arranged in racks.
Immunology, Issue 61, Cowpea, Meloidogyne, root infection, root-knot nematodes, tomato, seedling growth pouches
Measurement of Greenhouse Gas Flux from Agricultural Soils Using Static Chambers
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, USDA-ARS Pasture Systems Watershed Management Research Unit.
Measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes between the soil and the atmosphere, in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems, is critical to understanding the biogeochemical drivers of climate change and to the development and evaluation of GHG mitigation strategies based on modulation of landscape management practices. The static chamber-based method described here is based on trapping gases emitted from the soil surface within a chamber and collecting samples from the chamber headspace at regular intervals for analysis by gas chromatography. Change in gas concentration over time is used to calculate flux. This method can be utilized to measure landscape-based flux of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, and to estimate differences between treatments or explore system dynamics over seasons or years. Infrastructure requirements are modest, but a comprehensive experimental design is essential. This method is easily deployed in the field, conforms to established guidelines, and produces data suitable to large-scale GHG emissions studies.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, greenhouse gas, trace gas, gas flux, static chamber, soil, field, agriculture, climate
Isolation of Native Soil Microorganisms with Potential for Breaking Down Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films Used in Agriculture
Institutions: Western Washington University, Washington State University Northwestern Research and Extension Center, Texas Tech University.
Fungi native to agricultural soils that colonized commercially available biodegradable mulch (BDM) films were isolated and assessed for potential to degrade plastics. Typically, when formulations of plastics are known and a source of the feedstock is available, powdered plastic can be suspended in agar-based media and degradation determined by visualization of clearing zones. However, this approach poorly mimics in situ
degradation of BDMs. First, BDMs are not dispersed as small particles throughout the soil matrix. Secondly, BDMs are not sold commercially as pure polymers, but rather as films containing additives (e.g.
fillers, plasticizers and dyes) that may affect microbial growth. The procedures described herein were used for isolates acquired from soil-buried mulch films. Fungal isolates acquired from excavated BDMs were tested individually for growth on pieces of new, disinfested BDMs laid atop defined medium containing no carbon source except agar. Isolates that grew on BDMs were further tested in liquid medium where BDMs were the sole added carbon source. After approximately ten weeks, fungal colonization and BDM degradation were assessed by scanning electron microscopy. Isolates were identified via analysis of ribosomal RNA gene sequences. This report describes methods for fungal isolation, but bacteria also were isolated using these methods by substituting media appropriate for bacteria. Our methodology should prove useful for studies investigating breakdown of intact plastic films or products for which plastic feedstocks are either unknown or not available. However our approach does not provide a quantitative method for comparing rates of BDM degradation.
Microbiology, Issue 75, Plant Biology, Environmental Sciences, Agricultural Sciences, Soil Science, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Mycology, Fungi, Bacteria, Microorganisms, Biodegradable plastic, biodegradable mulch, compostable plastic, compostable mulch, plastic degradation, composting, breakdown, soil, 18S ribosomal DNA, isolation, culture
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Single-plant, Sterile Microcosms for Nodulation and Growth of the Legume Plant Medicago truncatula with the Rhizobial Symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti
Institutions: Florida State University.
Rhizobial bacteria form symbiotic, nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of compatible host legume plants. One of the most well-developed model systems for studying these interactions is the plant Medicago truncatula
cv. Jemalong A17 and the rhizobial bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti
1021. Repeated imaging of plant roots and scoring of symbiotic phenotypes requires methods that are non-destructive to either plants or bacteria. The symbiotic phenotypes of some plant and bacterial mutants become apparent after relatively short periods of growth, and do not require long-term observation of the host/symbiont interaction. However, subtle differences in symbiotic efficiency and nodule senescence phenotypes that are not apparent in the early stages of the nodulation process require relatively long growth periods before they can be scored. Several methods have been developed for long-term growth and observation of this host/symbiont pair. However, many of these methods require repeated watering, which increases the possibility of contamination by other microbes. Other methods require a relatively large space for growth of large numbers of plants. The method described here, symbiotic growth of M. truncatula/S. meliloti
in sterile, single-plant microcosms, has several advantages. Plants in these microcosms have sufficient moisture and nutrients to ensure that watering is not required for up to 9 weeks, preventing cross-contamination during watering. This allows phenotypes to be quantified that might be missed in short-term growth systems, such as subtle delays in nodule development and early nodule senescence. Also, the roots and nodules in the microcosm are easily viewed through the plate lid, so up-rooting of the plants for observation is not required.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Plant Roots, Medicago, Gram-Negative Bacteria, Nitrogen, Microbiological Techniques, Bacterial Processes, Symbiosis, botany, microbiology, Medicago truncatula, Sinorhizobium meliloti, nodule, nitrogen fixation, legume, rhizobia, bacteria
Generation of Composite Plants in Medicago truncatula used for Nodulation Assays
Institutions: St. Louis, Missouri.
Similar to Agrobacterium tumerfaciens, Agrobacterium rhizogenes
can transfer foreign DNAs into plant cells based on the autonomous root-inducing (Ri) plasmid. A. rhizogenes
can cause hairy root formation on plant tissues and form composite plants after transformation. On these composite plants, some of the regenerated roots are transgenic, carrying the wild type T-DNA and the engineered binary vector; while the shoots are still non-transgenic, serving to provide energy and growth support. These hairy root composite plants will not produce transgenic seeds, but there are a number of important features that make these composite plants very useful in plant research. First, with a broad host range,A. rhizogenes
can transform many plant species, especially dicots, allowing genetic engineering in a variety of species. Second, A. rhizogenes
infect tissues and explants directly; no tissue cultures prior to transformation is necessary to obtain composite plants, making them ideal for transforming recalcitrant plant species. Moreover, transgenic root tissues can be generated in a matter of weeks. For Medicago truncatula
, we can obtain transgenic roots in as short as three weeks, faster than normal floral dip Arabidopsis transformation. Overall, the hairy root composite plant technology is a versatile and useful tool to study gene functions and root related-phenotypes. Here we demonstrate how hairy root composite plants can be used to study plant-rhizobium interactions and nodulation in the difficult-to-transform species M. truncatula
Plant Biology, Issue 49, hairy root, composite plants, Medicago truncatula, rhizobia, GFP