Lost in diversity: the interactions between soil-borne fungi, biodiversity and plant productivity

Liesje Mommer (Corresponding author), Theresa Cotton, J.M. Raaijmakers, Aad J Termorshuizen, Jasper van Ruijven, Marloes Hendriks, S.Q. van Rijssel, Judith E. van de Mortel, Jan Willem van der Paauw, Elio G.W.M. Schijlen, Annemiek E. Smit-Tiekstra, Frank Berendse, Hans de Kroon, Alex J. Dumbrell

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There is consensus that plant species richness enhances plant productivity within natural grasslands, but the underlying drivers remain debated. Recently, differential accumulation of soil-borne fungal pathogens across the plant diversity gradient has been proposed as a cause of this pattern. However, the below-ground environment has generally been treated as a ‘black box’ in biodiversity experiments, leaving these fungi unidentified.
Using next generation sequencing and pathogenicity assays, we analysed the community composition of root-associated fungi from a biodiversity experiment to examine if evidence exists for host specificity and negative density dependence in the interplay between soil-borne fungi, plant diversity and productivity.
Plant species were colonised by distinct (pathogenic) fungal communities and isolated fungal species showed negative, species-specific effects on plant growth. Moreover, 57% of the pathogenic fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) recorded in plant monocultures were not detected in eight plant species plots, suggesting a loss of pathogenic OTUs with plant diversity.
Our work provides strong evidence for host specificity and negative density-dependent effects of root-associated fungi on plant species in grasslands. Our work substantiates the hypothesis that fungal root pathogens are an important driver of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-553
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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