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Changes in belowground biodiversity during ecosystem development

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Nick CutlerORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by National Academy of Sciences, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Belowground organisms play critical roles in maintaining multiple ecosystem processes, including plant productivity, decomposition, and nutrient cycling. Despite their importance, we have a limited understanding of how and why belowground biodiversity (bacteria, fungi, protists, and invertebrates) may change as soils develop over centuries to millennia (pedogenesis). Moreover, it is unclear whether belowground biodiversity changes during pedogenesis are similar to the patterns observed for aboveground plant diversity. Herein, we evaluated the role of resource availability, nutrient stoichiometry and soil abiotic factors in driving belowground biodiversity across 16 soil chronosequences (from centuries to millennia) spanning a wide range of globally-distributed ecosystem types. Changes in belowground biodiversity during pedogenesis followed two main patterns. In lower productivity ecosystems (drier and colder), increases in belowground biodiversity tracked increases in plant cover. In more productive ecosystems (wetter and warmer), increased acidification during pedogenesis was associated with declines in belowground biodiversity. Changes in the diversity of bacteria, fungi, protists, and invertebrates with pedogenesis were strongly and positively correlated worldwide, highlighting that belowground biodiversity share similar ecological drivers as soils and ecosystems develop. In general, temporal changes in aboveground plant diversity and belowground biodiversity were not correlated, challenging the common perception that belowground biodiversity should follow similar patterns to those of plant diversity during ecosystem development. Together, our findings provide evidence that ecological patterns in belowground biodiversity are predictable across major globallydistributed ecosystem types, and suggest that shifts in plant cover and soil acidification during ecosystem development are associated with changes in belowground biodiversity over centuries to millennia.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Delgado-Baquerizo M, Bardgett R, Vitousek P, Maestre F, Williams M, Eldridge D, Lambers H, Neuhauser S, Gallardo A, García-Velázquez L, Sala O, Abades S, Alfaro F, Berhe A, Bowker M, Currier C, Cutler N, Hart S, Hayes P, Hseu ZY, Kirchmair M, Peña-Ramírez V, Pérez C, Reed S, Santos F, Siebe C, Sullivan B, Weber-Grullon L, Fierer N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2019

Volume: 116

Issue: 14

Pages: 6891-6896

Print publication date: 02/04/2019

Online publication date: 15/03/2019

Acceptance date: 08/02/2019

Date deposited: 11/03/2019

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1818400116


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