The Cultivation of Arabidopsis for Experimental Research Using Commercially Available Peat-Based and Peat-Free Growing Media.
Experimental research involving Arabidopsis thaliana often involves the quantification of phenotypic traits during cultivation on compost or other growing media. Many commercially-available growing media contain peat, but peat extraction is not sustainable due to its very slow rate of formation. Moreover, peat extraction reduces peatland biodiversity and releases stored carbon and methane into the atmosphere. Here, we compared the experimental performance of Arabidopsis on peat-based and several types of commercially-available peat-free growing media (variously formed from coir, composted bark, wood-fibre, and domestic compost), to provide guidance for reducing peat use in plant sciences research with Arabidopsis. Arabidopsis biomass accumulation and seed yield were reduced by cultivation on several types of peat-free growing media. Arabidopsis performed extremely poorly on coir alone, presumably because this medium was completely nitrate-free. Some peat-free growing media were more susceptible to fungal contamination. We found that autoclaving of control (peat-based) growing media had no effect upon any physiological parameters that we examined, compared with non-autoclaved control growing media, under our experimental conditions. Overall, we conclude that Arabidopsis performs best when cultivated on peat-based growing media because seed yield was almost always reduced when peat-free media were used. This may be because standard laboratory protocols and growth conditions for Arabidopsis are optimized for peat-based media. However, during the vegetative growth phase several phenotypic traits were comparable between plants cultivated on peat-based and some peat-free media, suggesting that under certain circumstances peat-free media can be suitable for phenotypic analysis of Arabidopsis.