Root traits explain rhizosphere fungal community composition among temperate grassland plant species

Christopher Sweeney, Franciska De Vries, B E van Dongen, Richard Bardgett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While it is known that interactions between plants and soil fungi drive many essential ecosystem functions, considerable uncertainty exists over the drivers of fungal community composition in the rhizosphere. Here, we examined the roles of plant species identity, phylogeny and functional traits in shaping rhizosphere fungal communities and tested the robustness of these relationships to environmental change.

We conducted a glasshouse experiment consisting of 21 temperate grassland species grown under three different environmental treatments and characterised the fungal communities within the rhizosphere of these plants.

We found that plant species identity, plant phylogenetic relatedness and plant traits all affected rhizosphere fungal community composition. Trait relationships with fungal communities were primarily driven by interactions with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and root traits were stronger predictors of fungal communities than leaf traits. These patterns were independent of the environmental treatments the plants were grown under.

Our results showcase the key role of plant root traits, especially root diameter, root nitrogen and specific root length, in driving rhizosphere fungal community composition, demonstrating the potential for root traits to be used within predictive frameworks of plant–fungal relationships. Furthermore, we highlight how key limitations in our understanding of fungal function may obscure previously unmeasured plant–fungal interactions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Early online date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2020


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