Brassicaceae: a rich source of health improving phytochemicals
Intraspecific variation in plants can affect soil organisms. However, little is known about whether the magnitude of the effect depends on the degree of interaction with the roots. We analyzed effects of plant intraspecific variation on root herbivores and other soil organisms that interact directly with living plant roots, as well as on decomposer organisms that interact more indirectly with roots. We used four different white cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) cultivars exhibiting a high degree of intraspecific variation in root glucosinolate profiles. Intraspecific variation affected root-feeding nematodes, whereas decomposer organisms such as earthworms and Collembola were not affected. Root-feeding nematodes were most abundant in one of the cultivars, Badger Shipper, which lacked the glucosinolate gluconasturtiin. The effect of the intraspecific variation in glucosinolate composition may have been restricted to root-feeding nematodes due to the rapid degradation of glucosinolates and their breakdown products in the soil. Additionally, the low biomass of root-feeding nematodes, relative to other soil organisms, limits the possibility to affect higher trophic level organisms. Our results show that variation in root chemistry predominantly affects belowground herbivores and that these effects do not extend into the soil food web.