Lost in diversity: the interactions between soil-borne fungi, biodiversity and plant productivity

L. Mommer*, Anne Cotton, J.M. Raaijmakers, A.J. Termorshuizen, J. van Ruijven, Marloes Hendriks, Sophie van Rijssel, J.E. van de Mortel, J.W.M. van der Paauw, E.G.W.M. Schijlen, Annemiek Smit-Tiekstra, F. Berendse, Hans de Kroon, A.J. Dumbrell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)


There is consensus that plant species richness enhances plant productivity within natural grasslands, but the underlying drivers remain debated. Recently, differential accumulation of soil-borne fungal pathogens across the plant diversity gradient has been proposed as a cause of this pattern. However, the below-ground environment has generally been treated as a 'black box' in biodiversity experiments, leaving these fungi unidentified. Using next generation sequencing and pathogenicity assays, we analysed the community composition of root-associated fungi from a biodiversity experiment to examine if evidence exists for host specificity and negative density dependence in the interplay between soil-borne fungi, plant diversity and productivity. Plant species were colonised by distinct (pathogenic) fungal communities and isolated fungal species showed negative, species-specific effects on plant growth. Moreover, 57% of the pathogenic fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) recorded in plant monocultures were not detected in eight plant species plots, suggesting a loss of pathogenic OTUs with plant diversity. Our work provides strong evidence for host specificity and negative density-dependent effects of root-associated fungi on plant species in grasslands. Our work substantiates the hypothesis that fungal root pathogens are an important driver of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-553
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • density dependence
  • fungal community composition
  • host specificity
  • neighbour identity
  • root distribution
  • root-associated fungi


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