Soil biota contributions to soil aggregation

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Humankind depends on the sustainability of soils for its survival and well-being. Threatened by a rapidly changing world, our soils suffer from degradation and biodiversity loss, making it increasingly important to understand the role of soil biodiversity in soil aggregation—a key parameter for soil sustainability. Here, we provide evidence of the contribution of soil biota to soil aggregation on macro- and microaggregate scales, and evaluate how specific traits, soil biota groups and species interactions contribute to this. We conducted a global meta-analysis comprising 279 soil biota species. Our study shows a clear positive effect of soil biota on soil aggregation, with bacteria and fungi generally appearing to be more important for soil aggregation than soil animals. Bacteria contribute strongly to both macro- and microaggregates while fungi strongly affect macroaggregation. Motility, body size and population density were important traits modulating effect sizes. Investigating species interactions across major taxonomic groups revealed their beneficial impact on soil aggregation. At the broadest level, our results highlight the need to consider biodiversity as a causal factor in soil aggregation. This will require a shift from the current management and physicochemical perspective to an approach that fully embraces the significance of soil organisms, their diversity and interactions.

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Fig. 1: Data structure and study locations.
Fig. 2: Effect size range in the single taxa dataset and effect of the HTC, phylum and aggregate size fraction on the effect size rrST.
Fig. 3: Impact of functional traits on the effect size rrST in the single taxa dataset.
Fig. 4: Impact of soil biota interactions in mixtures across and within taxonomic groups (HTC and phylum level, respectively) on soil aggregation.


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We thank J. Antonovics for input on this paper. A.L. and M.C.R. acknowledge funding from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant number RI 1815/16-1). M.C.R. additionally acknowledges funding from a European Research Council Advanced Grant (694368) and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research-funded project INPLAMINT.

Author information

A.L. designed and performed the research; W.Z. contributed analytical tools; A.L. and M.C.R. wrote the manuscript; all authors contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Anika Lehmann.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Figures 1–21, Supplementary References

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Supplementary Data

Single Taxa dataset, Interacting Taxa dataset.

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Lehmann, A., Zheng, W. & Rillig, M.C. Soil biota contributions to soil aggregation. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1828–1835 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0344-y

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