Root mucilage nitrogen for rhizosphere microorganisms under drought

Meisam Nazari, Samuel Bickel, Yakov Kuzyakov, Nataliya Bilyera, Mohsen Zarebanadkouki, Birgit Wassermann, Michaela A. Dippold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nitrogen (N) is a crucial nutrient for the growth and activity of rhizosphere microorganisms, particularly during drought conditions. Plant root-secreted mucilage contains N that could potentially nourish rhizosphere microbial communities. However, there remains a significant gap in understanding mucilage N content, its source, and its utilization by microorganisms under drought stress. In this study, we investigated the impact of four maize varieties (DH02 and DH04 from Kenya, and Kentos and Keops from Germany) on the secretion rates of mucilage from aerial roots and explored the origin of mucilage N supporting microbial life in the rhizosphere. We found that DH02 exhibited a 96% higher mucilage secretion rate compared to Kentos, while Keops showed 114% and 89% higher secretion rates compared to Kentos and DH04, respectively. On average, the four maize varieties released 4 μg N per root tip per day, representing 2% of total mucilage secretion. Notably, the natural abundance of 15N isotopes increased (higher δ15N signature) with mucilage N release. This indicates a potential dilution of the isotopic signal from biological fixation of atmospheric N by mucilage-inhabiting bacteria as mucilage secretion rates increase. We proposed a model linking mucilage secretion to a mixture of isotopic signatures and estimated that biological N fixation may contribute to 45 - 75% of mucilage N per root tip. The N content of mucilage from a single maize root tip can support a bacterial population ranging from 107 to 1010 cells per day. In conclusion, mucilage serves as a significant N-rich resource for microbial communities in the rhizosphere during drought conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-647
Number of pages9
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2024


  • Isotopic approaches
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Rhizosphere processes
  • Root exudates
  • Zea mays L


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