Frankia Sp+ strains maintain their ability to sporulate in symbiosis with actinorhizal plants, producing abundant sporangia inside host plant cells, in contrast to Sp− strains, which are unable to perform in-planta sporulation. We herein examined the role of in-planta sporulation in Frankia infectivity and competitiveness for root infection. Fifteen strains belonging to different Sp+ and Sp− phylogenetic lineages were inoculated on seedlings of Alnus glutinosa (Ag) and A. incana (Ai). Strain competitiveness was investigated by performing Sp−/Sp+ co-inoculations. Plant inoculations were standardized using crushed nodules obtained under laboratory-controlled conditions (same plant species, age, and environmental factors). Specific oligonucleotide primers were developed to identify Frankia Sp+ and/or Sp− strains in the resulting nodules. Single inoculation experiments showed that (i) infectivity by Sp+ strains was significantly greater than that by Sp− strains, (ii) genetically divergent Sp+ strains exhibited different infective abilities, and (iii) Sp+ and Sp− strains showed different host preferences according to the origin (host species) of the inocula. Co-inoculations of Sp+ and Sp− strains revealed the greater competitiveness of Sp+ strains (98.3 to 100% of Sp+ nodules, with up to 15.6% nodules containing both Sp+ and Sp− strains). The results of the present study highlight differences in Sp+/Sp− strain ecological behaviors and provide new insights to strengthen the obligate symbiont hypothesis for Sp+ strains.
2016 by Japanese Society of Microbial Ecology / Japanese Society of Soil Microbiology / Taiwan Society of Microbial Ecology / Japanese Society of Plant Microbe Interactions.