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04.02.2016 09:26

Soil Communities Promote Temporal Stability and Species Asynchrony in Experimental Grassland Communities

Soil microbes, although for the most part unseen, represent the largest portion of life on Earth. In fact, there is more life in one spoonful of soil then there are humans alive right now. And so a great deal of work is being done to try to understand the role that soil microbes play in determining how the above ground world functions.

A plant root from the project that has been stained: The arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in blue that have grown into the root and are acting symbiotically with the plant grow so that both the plant and fungi are able to grow better. One can see the different parts of the fungi In blue throughout the plant root: the round balloons are the fungal vesicles (the food storage tanks), the lines connecting them are the fungal hyphae (the highways for nutrient flow) and the fuzzy clusters of blue throughout are the fungal arbuscules (the little ends where the nutrient exchange between the fungi and plant occur).

A recent study by Dr. Sarah Pellkofer and her team in the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Science of UZH was able to demonstrate that the presence of soil microbes stabilizes the functioning of grassland ecosystems over time. They found soil microbes cause greater and more stable plant productivity, as well as evenness and diversity of plant communities. They attribute this to the way that the soil microbes change the interaction between plant species. Dr. Pellkofer and her team found that when they removed microbes from the soil, grass species dominated the ecosystems, while when the soil microbes were present, the grasses better coexisted with legume and forb plant species. The UZH researchers explain that this was due to the way that soil microbes form symbiotic relationships with certain plant species, assisting the plants and allowing them to better compete against other plant species for nutrients and the resources they need to survive. And with a greater diversity of plants present, the systems that had soil microbes were better able to maintain stable productivity of biomass over a one-year time period as a result of balance between species. These findings could prove to be quite useful for farmers that rely upon stable plant production over time as well as the policymakers that regulate them in order to meet the world’s food production demands. The full study and the findings of the team were published in the online journal PLOS ONE on 1 February and are open for all to access, download, and share.


Further reading: 
Sarah Pellkofer, Marcel G. A. van der Heijden, Bernhard Schmid, Cameron Wagg, Soil Communities Promote Temporal Stability and Species Asynchrony in Experimental Grassland Communities,  Published: February 1, 2016 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148015





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