Symbiotic soil fungi enhance ecosystem resilience to climate change

Martínez-García, Laura B.; Deyn, Gerlinde B. de; Pugnaire, Francisco I.; Kothamasi, David; Heijden, Marcel G.A. van der


Substantial amounts of nutrients are lost from soils through leaching. These losses can be environmentally damaging, causing groundwater eutrophication and also comprise an economic burden in terms of lost agricultural production. More intense precipitation events caused by climate change will likely aggravate this problem. So far it is unresolved to which extent soil biota can make ecosystems more resilient to climate change and reduce nutrient leaching losses when rainfall intensity increases. In this study, we focused on arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, common soil fungi that form symbiotic associations with most land plants and which increase plant nutrient uptake. We hypothesized that AM fungi mitigate nutrient losses following intensive precipitation events (higher amount of precipitation and rain events frequency). To test this, we manipulated the presence of AM fungi in model grassland communities subjected to two rainfall scenarios: moderate and high rainfall intensity. The total amount of nutrients lost through leaching increased substantially with higher rainfall intensity. The presence of AM fungi reduced phosphorus losses by 50% under both rainfall scenarios and nitrogen losses by 40% under high rainfall intensity. Thus, the presence of AM fungi enhanced the nutrient interception ability of soils, and AM fungi reduced the nutrient leaching risk when rainfall intensity increases. These findings are especially relevant in areas with high rainfall intensity (e.g., such as the tropics) and for ecosystems that will experience increased rainfall due to climate change. Overall, this work demonstrates that soil biota such as AM fungi can enhance ecosystem resilience and reduce the negative impact of increased precipitation on nutrient losses.