Letters to Nature

Nature 396, 69-72 (5 November 1998) | doi:10.1038/23932; Received 28 July 1998; Accepted 10 September 1998

Mycorrhizal fungal diversity determines plant biodiversity, ecosystem variability and productivity

Marcel G. A. van der Heijden1,2, John N. Klironomos2,3, Margot Ursic3, Peter Moutoglis4, Ruth Streitwolf-Engel1, Thomas Boller1, Andres Wiemken1 & Ian R. Sanders1

  1. Botanisches Institut der Universität Basel, Hebelstrasse 1, 4056 Basel, Switzerland
  2. Department of Botany, University of Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada
  3. Premier Tech Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec G5R 4C9, Canada
  4. These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to: Ian R. Sanders1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to I.R.S. (e-mail: Email: sanders@ubaclu.unibas.ch).

The functioning and stability of terrestrial ecosystems are determined by plant biodiversity and species composition1, 2, 3, 4, 5. However, the ecological mechanisms by which plant biodiversity and species composition are regulated and maintained are not well understood. These mechanisms need to be identified to ensure successful management for conservation and restoration of diverse natural ecosystems. Here we show, by using two independent, but complementary, ecological experiments, that below-ground diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is a major factor contributing to the maintenance of plant biodiversity and to ecosystem functioning. At low AMF diversity, the plant species composition and overall structure of microcosms that simulate European calcareous grassland fluctuate greatly when the AMF taxa that are present are changed. Plant biodiversity, nutrient capture and productivity in macrocosms that simulate North American old-fields increase significantly with increasing AMF-species richness. These results emphasize the need to protect AMF and to consider these fungi in future management practices in order to maintain diverse ecosystems. Our results also show that microbial interactions can drive ecosystem functions such as plant biodiversity, productivity and variability.