A widespread plant-fungal-bacterial symbiosis promotes plant biodiversity, plant nutrition and seedling recruitment

M.G.A. van der Heijden, S. de Bruin, L. Luckerhoff, R.S.P van Logtestijn, K. Schlaeppi

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle


Highly diverse microbial assemblages colonize plant roots. It is still poorly understood whether different members of this root microbiome act synergistically by supplying different services (for example, different limiting nutrients) to plants and plant communities. In order to test this, we manipulated the presence of two widespread plant root symbionts, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria in model grassland communities established in axenic microcosms. Here, we demonstrate that both symbionts complement each other resulting in increased plant diversity, enhanced seedling recruitment and improved nutrient acquisition compared with a single symbiont situation. Legume seedlings obtained up to 15-fold higher productivity if they formed an association with both symbionts, opposed to productivity they reached with only one symbiont. Our results reveal the importance of functional diversity of symbionts and demonstrate that different members of the root microbiome can complement each other in acquiring different limiting nutrients and in driving important ecosystem functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalThe ISME Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Bibliographical note

Mentioned in 'Editors Choice' in Science 349, 6248, page 600 titled Microbiome, Belowground-aboveground.

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