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      The unseen majority: soil microbes as drivers of plant diversity and productivity in terrestrial ecosystems

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      Ecology Letters

      Wiley

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          Abstract

          Microbes are the unseen majority in soil and comprise a large portion of life's genetic diversity. Despite their abundance, the impact of soil microbes on ecosystem processes is still poorly understood. Here we explore the various roles that soil microbes play in terrestrial ecosystems with special emphasis on their contribution to plant productivity and diversity. Soil microbes are important regulators of plant productivity, especially in nutrient poor ecosystems where plant symbionts are responsible for the acquisition of limiting nutrients. Mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria are responsible for c. 5-20% (grassland and savannah) to 80% (temperate and boreal forests) of all nitrogen, and up to 75% of phosphorus, that is acquired by plants annually. Free-living microbes also strongly regulate plant productivity, through the mineralization of, and competition for, nutrients that sustain plant productivity. Soil microbes, including microbial pathogens, are also important regulators of plant community dynamics and plant diversity, determining plant abundance and, in some cases, facilitating invasion by exotic plants. Conservative estimates suggest that c. 20 000 plant species are completely dependent on microbial symbionts for growth and survival pointing to the importance of soil microbes as regulators of plant species richness on Earth. Overall, this review shows that soil microbes must be considered as important drivers of plant diversity and productivity in terrestrial ecosystems.

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          Large-scale forest girdling shows that current photosynthesis drives soil respiration.

          The respiratory activities of plant roots, of their mycorrhizal fungi and of the free-living microbial heterotrophs (decomposers) in soils are significant components of the global carbon balance, but their relative contributions remain uncertain. To separate mycorrhizal root respiration from heterotrophic respiration in aboreal pine forest, we conducted a large-scale tree-girdling experiment, comprising 9 plots each containing about 120 trees. Tree-girdling involves stripping the stem bark to the depth of the current xylem at breast height terminating the supply of current photosynthates to roots and their mycorrhizal fungi without physically disturbing the delicate root-microbe-soil system. Here we report that girdling reduced soil respiration within 1-2 months by about 54% relative to respiration on ungirdled control plots, and that decreases of up to 37% were detected within 5 days. These values clearly show that the flux of current assimilates to roots is a key driver of soil respiration; they are conservative estimates of root respiration, however, because girdling increased the use of starch reserves in the roots. Our results indicate that models of soil respiration should incorporate measures of photosynthesis and of seasonal patterns of photosynthate allocation to roots.
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            Living in a fungal world: impact of fungi on soil bacterial niche development.

            The colonization of land by plants appears to have coincided with the appearance of mycorrhiza-like fungi. Over evolutionary time, fungi have maintained their prominent role in the formation of mycorrhizal associations. In addition, however, they have been able to occupy other terrestrial niches of which the decomposition of recalcitrant organic matter is perhaps the most remarkable. This implies that, in contrast to that of aquatic organic matter decomposition, bacteria have not been able to monopolize decomposition processes in terrestrial ecosystems. The emergence of fungi in terrestrial ecosystems must have had a strong impact on the evolution of terrestrial bacteria. On the one hand, potential decomposition niches, e.g. lignin degradation, have been lost for bacteria, whereas on the other hand the presence of fungi has itself created new bacterial niches. Confrontation between bacteria and fungi is ongoing, and from studying contemporary interactions, we can learn about the impact that fungi presently have, and have had in the past, on the ecology and evolution of terrestrial bacteria. In the first part of this review, the focus is on niche differentiation between soil bacteria and fungi involved in the decomposition of plant-derived organic matter. Bacteria and fungi are seen to compete for simple plant-derived substrates and have developed antagonistic strategies. For more recalcitrant organic substrates, e.g. cellulose and lignin, both competitive and mutualistic strategies appear to have evolved. In the second part of the review, bacterial niches with respect to the utilization of fungal-derived substrates are considered. Here, several lines of development can be recognized, ranging from mutualistic exudate-consuming bacteria that are associated with fungal surfaces to endosymbiotic and mycophagous bacteria. In some cases, there are indications of fungal specific selection in fungus-associated bacteria, and possible mechanisms for such selection are discussed.
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              Mycorrhizas and nutrient cycling in ecosystems - a journey towards relevance?

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Ecology Letters
                Ecol Letters
                Wiley
                1461-023X
                1461-0248
                March 2008
                March 2008
                : 11
                : 3
                : 296-310
                Article
                10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01139.x
                18047587
                © 2008

                http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/tdm_license_1.1

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