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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Dec 22;274(1629):3119-26.

Human selection and the relaxation of legume defences against ineffective rhizobia.

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  • 1Faculteit der Aard-en Levenswetenschappen, De Boelelaan 1085-1087, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Enforcement mechanisms are thought to be important in maintaining mutualistic cooperation between species. A clear example of an enforcement mechanism is how legumes impose sanctions on rhizobial symbionts that fail to provide sufficient fixed N2. However, with domestication and breeding in high-soil-N environments, humans may have altered these natural legume defences and reduced the agricultural benefits of the symbiosis. Using six genotypes of soya beans, representing 60 years of breeding, we show that, as a group, older cultivars were better able to maintain fitness than newer cultivars (seed production) when infected with a mixture of effective and ineffective rhizobial strains. Additionally, we found small differences among cultivars in the ratio of effective:ineffective rhizobia released from their nodules, an indicator of future rhizobial strain fitness. When infected by symbionts varying in quality, legume defences against poor-quality partners have apparently worsened under decades of artificial selection.

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