Root exudates are known to shape microbial activities in the rhizosphere and to be of fundamental importance for plant-soil-microbe-carbon–nitrogen interactions. However, it remains unclear how and to what extent the amount and composition of root exudation affects rhizosphere denitrification.
In this study root exudation patterns and rhizosphere denitrification enzyme activity of three different grass species grown on two agricultural soils under two different soil water contents were investigated under controlled conditions.
We found that root exudation of primary metabolites largely depends on plant species, soil type, soil moisture and root exudation medium. In dependence of soil properties and soil moisture levels, plants largely controlled amount and quality of root exudation. Exudates affected denitrification activity and plant–microbe competition for nitrate. Specifically, exudation of organic acids stimulated denitrifying activity while the sugar lyxose exhibited an inhibitory effect.
We show that interactive effects of physicochemical soil properties and species-specific effects of plant metabolism on root exudation act as a dominant control of rhizosphere denitrification, thereby explaining more than half of its variance.