Microbes as Targets and Mediators of Allelopathy in Plants

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Studies of allelopathy in terrestrial systems have experienced tremendous growth as interest has risen in describing biochemical mechanisms responsible for structuring plant communities, determining agricultural and forest productivity, and explaining invasive behaviors in introduced organisms. While early criticisms of allelopathy involved issues with allelochemical production, stability, and degradation in soils, an understanding of the chemical ecology of soils and its microbial inhabitants has been increasingly incorporated in studies of allelopathy, and recognized as an essential predictor of the outcome of allelopathic interactions between plants. Microbes can mediate interactions in a number of ways with both positive and negative outcomes for surrounding plants and plant communities. In this review, we examine cases where soil microbes are the target of allelopathic plants leading to indirect effects on competing plants, provide examples where microbes play either a protective effect on plants against allelopathic competitors or enhance allelopathic effects, and we provide examples where soil microbial communities have changed through time in response to allelopathic plants with known or potential effects on plant communities. We focus primarily on interactions involving wild plants in natural systems, using case studies of some of the world’s most notorious invasive plants, but we also provide selected examples from agriculturally managed systems. Allelopathic interactions between plants cannot be fully understood without considering microbial participants, and we conclude with suggestions for future research.



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