Synergies between mycorrhizal fungi and microbial communities increase plant nitrogen acquisition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Nitrogen availability often restricts primary productivity in terrestrial ecosystems. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are ubiquitous symbionts of terrestrial plants and can improve plant nitrogen acquisition, but have a limited ability to access organic nitrogen. Although other soil biota mineralize organic nitrogen into bioavailable forms, they may simultaneously compete for nitrogen, with unknown consequences for plant nutrition. Here, we show that synergies between the mycorrhizal fungus Rhizophagus irregularis and soil microbial communities have a highly non-additive effect on nitrogen acquisition by the model grass Brachypodium distachyon. These multipartite microbial synergies result in a doubling of the nitrogen that mycorrhizal plants acquire from organic matter and a tenfold increase in nitrogen acquisition compared to non-mycorrhizal plants grown in the absence of soil microbial communities. This previously unquantified multipartite relationship may contribute to more than 70 Tg of annually assimilated plant nitrogen, thereby playing a critical role in global nutrient cycling and ecosystem function.


External organisations
  • Cornell University
  • Technical University of Munich
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Soil Science
  • Ecology
Original languageEnglish
Article number233
Number of pages9
JournalCommunications Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun 21
Publication categoryResearch