The diversity of soil microbial communities can be key to the capacity of soils to suppress soil-borne plant diseases. As agricultural practice, as well as directed agronomical measures, are known to be able to affect soil microbial diversity, it is plausible that the soil microflora can be geared towards a greater suppressivity of soil-borne diseases as a result of the selection of suitable soil management regimes. In the context of a programme aimed at investigating the microbial diversity of soils under different agricultural regimes, including permanent grassland versus arable land under agricultural rotation, we assessed how soil microbial diversity is affected in relation to the suppression of the soil-borne potato pathogen Rhizoctonia solani AG3. The diversity in the microbial communities over about a growing season was described by using cultivation-based – plating on different media – and cultivation-independent – soil DNA-based PCR followed by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) community fingerprinting – methods. The results showed great diversity in the soil microbiota at both the culturable and cultivation-independent detection levels. Using cultivation methods, various differences between treatments with respect to sizes of bacterial and fungal populations were detected, with highest population sizes generally found in rhizospheres. In addition, the evenness of eco-physiologically differing bacterial types was higher in grassland than in arable land under rotation. At the cultivation-independent level, clear differences in the diversities of several microbial groups between permanent grassland and arable land under rotation were apparent. Bio-assays that assessed the growth of R. solani AG3 hyphae through soil indicated a greater growth suppression in grassland than in arable land soils. Similarly, an experiment performed in the glasshouse showed clear differences in both microbial diversities and suppressiveness of R. solani growth in soil, depending on the presence of either maize or oats as the crop. The significance of these findings for designing soil management strategies is discussed
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