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Systematics, Specificity, and Ecology of New Zealand Rhizobia

My thesis was completed and published in 2006, below you can read the abstract, or you can even download my entire thesis in PDF format. (2.8 MB). Or you can see an unformatted HTML preview below:

This thesis should be cited as:
Weir, B. S. (2006) Systematics, Specificity, and Ecology of New Zealand Rhizobia. PhD Thesis. School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland.


This research investigated the rhizobia that are associated with New Zealand legume plants. Rhizobia are a diverse group of bacteria that live in symbiosis with legumes in root nodules. Rhizobia fix Nitrogen from the atmosphere and provide this nutrient to the plant. The objectives of this research were to:

  1. Determine the identity of the rhizobial species nodulating the native legumes of New Zealand (Sophora, Carmichaelia, and Clianthus), and the identity and origin of rhizobial species nodulating invasive exotic legumes in New Zealand (Ulex, Cytisus, and Acacia).
  2. Determine the specificity and nitrogen fixing capacity of both groups of rhizobia.
  3. Investigate the possible exchange of transmissible symbiotic genetic elements. A polyphasic strategy was used to determine the identity of bacterial isolates.

The 16S rRNA, atpD, recA, and glnII genes were PCR amplified and sequenced, then analysed by maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. Phenotypic characters were also assessed by use of the Biolog and FAME techniques. Nodulation and fixation ability was assessed by inoculating legume seedlings with rhizobial strains, then determining nitrogenase activity after ten weeks by gas chromatography, and examining roots for nodules. A gene involved in symbiosis, nodA, was sequenced from rhizobial strains to determine if transmission between strains had occurred. The results of the experiments showed that the native legumes were predominately nodulated by diverse Mesorhizobium spp. that contain three different nodA genotypes (two of which are novel) that have transferred between rhizobial strains. The Mesorhizobium spp. showed little nodulation specificity and could nodulate the exotic legume Astragalus, but not the invasive weed legumes. Rhizobium leguminosarum was also found to nodulate native legumes, albeit ineffectively. The exotic invasive woody legumes of this study were nodulated by diverse Bradyrhizobium spp. that had nodA genotypes typical of Australian and European species. The origins of these bacteria can not be categorically determined. However the evidence is presented to suggest that nodulating Mesorhizobium spp. arrived with the ancestors of the native legumes, while Bradyrhizobium spp. nodulating Ulex and Cytisus arrived recently from Europe. Bradyrhizobium spp. nodulating Acacia may be recently introduced, possibly from Australia, although further work is required to confirm these hypotheses.

My supervisors were: