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Mycorrhizal fungal diversity determines plant biodiversity, ecosystem variability and productivity

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the NaturalSciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank P. Leadley, D. Read, P. Salzer, B. Schmid, J.Stocklin and D. Tilman for comments.

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Correspondence to Ian R. Sanders.

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Figure 1: Above-ground biomass of individual plant species and total above-ground plant biomass (mean ± s.e.m.) in microcosms simulating calcareous grasslands, in which the composition of the AMF community was manipulated (experiment 1).
Figure 2: The effect of AMF-species richness on different parameters.

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