Plant sex and phenological stage affect interactions with rhizosphere nematode communities

Background: In dioecious plants, females and males associate differently with mycorrhizal fungi, but interactions with other rhizosphere organisms are less well studied.

Aims: We investigated the effect of plant sex on rhizosphere nematode communities associated with Corema album, a dioecious shrub occurring in coastal habitats.

Methods: Rhizosphere samples were collected from males and females in three populations (150 plants), during fruiting and flowering. Nematode communities were characterised and compared between plant sexes through statistical analyses of the abundance of trophic groups, plant parasitic nematode (PPN) genera and ecological indices.

Results: Free-living nematodes showed no statistically significant differences owing to plant sex. Conversely, PPN community composition was significantly different between plant sexes during fruiting but not flowering, suggesting that physiological requirements over the annual phenological cycle of the plant influence ecological interactions with the rhizosphere.

Of the 13 PPN genera identified, the ectoparasitic Criconema and Hemicriconemellawere more abundant in the rhizosphere of males during fruiting, whereas the endoparasitic Meloidogyne associated more frequently with females, suggesting that plant host suitability is related to PPN feeding strategy.

Conclusions: It appears that interactions of individuals of different sexes of C. album with the rhizosphere nematode community vary with phenological stage, especially for PPN.