Changes in below ground biodiversity during ecosystem development

TitleChanges in below ground biodiversity during ecosystem development
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsDelgado-Baquerizo M, Bardgett R, Vitousek PM, Maestre FT, Williams MA, Eldridge D.J., Lambers H, Neuhauser S, Gallardo A, García-Velázquez L, Sala O.E, Abades SR, Alfaro FD, Berhe A, Bowker MA, Currier CM, Cutler NA, Hart SC, Hayes PE, Hseu Z-Y, Kirchmair M, Peña-Ramírez VM, Pérez CA, Reed SC, Santos F, Siebe C, Sullivan BW, Weber-Grullon L, Fierer N
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Accession NumberJRN55142

We do not know how and why belowground biodiversity may change as soils develop over centuries to millennia, hampering our ability to predict the myriad of ecosystem processes regulated by belowground organisms under changing environments. We conducted a global survey of 16 soil chronosequences spanning a wide range of ecosystem types and found that in less productive ecosystems, increases in belowground biodiversity followed increases in plant cover, but in more productive ecosystems, acidification during soil development was often associated with declines in belowground biodiversity. The biodiversity of multiple soil organisms exhibited similar patterns over time, but in contrast to expectations, changes in plant diversity were not associated with corresponding changes in belowground biodiversity.Belowground organisms play critical roles in maintaining multiple ecosystem processes, including plant productivity, decomposition, and nutrient cycling. Despite their importance, however, 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. Here we evaluated the roles 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 (i.e., drier and colder), increases in belowground biodiversity tracked increases in plant cover. In more productive ecosystems (i.e., 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 shares 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. Taken together, our findings provide evidence that ecological patterns in belowground biodiversity are predictable across major globally distributed 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.