The hidden potential of saprotrophic fungi in arable soil: Patterns of short-term stimulation by organic amendments

Anna Clocchiatti, S.E. Hannula, Marlies van den Berg, Gerard Korthals, Wietse de Boer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Saprotrophic fungi are abundant in soils of (semi-)natural ecosystems, where they play a major role in ecosystem functioning. On the contrary, saprotrophic fungal biomass is remarkably low in intensively managed soils and this can have a negative impact on soil functioning. Nevertheless, arable soils harbour a diverse pool of fungi, which can be stimulated by organic amendments. Management targeted towards increasing soil organic matter often coincides with an increase of fungal biomass, but it can take years before effects are seen. However, a rapid stimulation of fungal biomass at the start of the growing season could immediately benefit crop production, by improving nutrient availability, soil structure and suppression of soil-borne diseases. The objective of this study is to realize a rapid increase of saprotrophic fungal biomass with organic amendments. In controlled pot experiments, dried and milled organic materials of different quality were added to an arable sandy soil. Ergosterol-based fungal biomass and ITS2-based fungal community structure were measured over a period of two months. Wood sawdust of deciduous tree species and paper pulp resulted in a high and lasting increase of fungal biomass, as opposed to transient effects given by cover crops and other non-woody plant materials. Little or no stimulation of fungi was seen for coniferous wood sawdust and agro-industrial by-products. Nitrogen immobilization induced by sawdust and paper pulp was compensated by supplementing mineral nitrogen, which enhanced the stimulation of saprotrophic fungi. The composition of the stimulated fungi was influenced by the quality of organic amendments. In particular, deciduous wood sawdust and paper pulp favoured saprotrophic ascomycete fungi (mainly Sordariomycetes), with no increment in potential plant-pathogenic fungi. Overall, our results point at a good perspective to use woody materials as sustainable soil improver via stimulation of saprotrophic fungi.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103434
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Ascomycetes
  • Fungal biomass
  • Organic amendments
  • Saprotrophic fungi
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Wood sawdust

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