An Odyssey without borders: soil microbiota as drivers of plant species coexistence along successional gradients



Our planet is in a biodiversity crisis. To counteract biodiversity loss, the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to protect vulnerable
ecosystems, reverse ecosystem degradation, and restore biodiversity on agricultural land. However, successful restoration and
conservation of plant diversity is hindered by limited understanding of the principles that govern the ability of plant species to coexist
and drive plant diversity. My proposed research aims to address the major challenge of restoration and conservation of plant diversity
by examining how soil microorganisms contribute to plant species coexistence.
My project will draw together fundamental coexistence theory and state-of-the-art knowledge from plant ecology, microbial ecology
and soil ecology to reconcile how pathogens and mutualists drive plant coexistence. To develop successful strategies of conservation
and restoration of plant diversity it is critical to define a single predictive theory on the role of soil microbes in plant coexistence. I
propose to reconcile pathogen- and mutualist-driven coexistence hypotheses into a single framework by addressing two objectives:
Along a successional vegetation gradient in which belowground interactions switch from pathogen to mutualist dominated, I will 1)
identify which pathogenic and mutualistic microbes plants accumulate with increasing intra-specific density, and 2) determine how
these soil microbes influence host plant coexistence.
Results will uncover the role of pathogens and mutualists in driving coexistence and whether these different groups of players are
mutually exclusive or act simultaneously. This will lay the foundation for urgent tailor-made applied research on the key processes
that need conservation and restoration of grassland systems, and uncover the drivers that steer plant community succession towards
biodiverse ecosystems.
Korte titelBelowGround
Effectieve start/einddatum01/06/202331/05/2025


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