Soil inoculation steers restoration of terrestrial ecosystems

E.R.J. Wubs*, W.H. van der Putten, M. Bosch, T.M. Bezemer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterAcademicpeer-review

314 Citations (Scopus)


Many natural ecosystems have been degraded because of
human activities1,2 and need to be restored so that biodiversity
is protected. However, restoration can take decades and restoration
activities are often unsuccessful3 because of abiotic
constraints (for example, eutrophication, acidification) and
unfavourable biotic conditions (for example, competition or
adverse soil community composition). A key question is what
manageable factors prevent transition from degraded to
restored ecosystems and what interventions are required for
successful restoration2,4. Experiments have shown that the
soil community is an important driver of plant community
development5–8, suggesting that manipulation of the soil
community is key to successful restoration of terrestrial
ecosystems3,9. Here we examine a large-scale, six-year-old
field experiment on ex-arable land and show that application
of soil inocula not only promotes ecosystem restoration, but
that different origins of soil inocula can steer the plant community
development towards different target communities,
varying from grassland to heathland vegetation. The impact
of soil inoculation on plant and soil community composition
was most pronounced when the topsoil layer was removed,
whereas effects were less strong, but still significant, when
the soil inocula were introduced into intact topsoil. Therefore,
soil inoculation is a powerful tool to both restore disturbed
terrestrial ecosystems and steer plant community development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16107
JournalNature Plants
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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