Changes in belowground biodiversity during ecosystem development

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Richard D. Bardgett, Peter M. Vitousek, Fernando T. Maestre, Mark A. Williams, David J. Eldridge, Hans Lambers, Sigrid Neuhauser, Antonio Gallardo, Laura García-Velázquez, Osvaldo E. Sala, Sebastián R. Abades, Fernando D. Alfaro, Asmeret A. Berhe, Matthew A. Bowker, Courtney M. Currier, Nick A. Cutler, Stephen C. Hart, Patrick E. Hayes, Zeng Yei HseuMartin Kirchmair, Victor M. Peña-Ramírez, Cecilia A. Pérez, Sasha C. Reed, Fernanda Santos, Christina Siebe, Benjamin W. Sullivan, Luis Weber-Grullon, Noah Fierer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6891-6896
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 2 2019


  • Acidification
  • Ecosystem development
  • Global scale
  • Soil biodiversity
  • Soil chronosequences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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