Although microbes influence plant growth, little is known about the impact of microbial diversity on plant fitness trade-offs, intraspecific-interactions, and soil nutrient dynamics in the context of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) research. The BEF theory states that higher species richness can enhance ecosystem functioning. Thus, we hypothesize that rhizobacterial species richness will alter sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.) growth, soil nutrient dynamics and interactions (antagonism or synergism) in a nutrient-poor greenhouse soil. Using six rhizobacterial species in a BEF experiment, we tested the impact of a species richness gradient (0, 1, 3, 5 or 6 species per community) on plant growth, nutrient assimilation, and soil nutrient dynamics via seed-inoculation. Our experiment included, one un-inoculated control, six rhizobacterial monoculture (Pseudomonas poae, Pseudomonas sp., Bacillus pumilus., Pantoea agglomerance., Microbacterium sp., and Serratia marcescens), and their nine mixture treatments in triplicate (48). Rhizobacterial species richness enhanced per pot above- or below-ground dry mass. However, the per plant growth and plant nutrient assimilation declined, most likely, due to microbial-driven competitive interactions among sorghum plants. But nevertheless, some rhizobacterial monoculture and mixture treatments improved per plant (shoot and root) growth and nutrient assimilation as well. Soil nutrient contents were mostly lower at higher plant-associated rhizobacterial diversity; among these, the soil Zn contents decreased significantly across the rhizobacterial diversity gradient. Rhizobacterial diversity promoted synergistic interactions among soil nutrients and improved root–soil interactions. Overall, our results suggest that a higher rhizobacterial diversity may enhance soil-plant interactions and total productivity under resource limited conditions.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 10, issue 1, article no. 15454.

© The Author(s) 2020

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National Science Foundation Cooperative Agreement No. 1355438 and 1826715 (SD) as well as United States Department of Agriculture Hatch funding supported this work (SD).

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