Symbiosis and soil biodiversity as a driver of plant growth and ecosystem functioning

Plant Soil Interactions

Soils are highly diverse. A hand full of soil contains billions of bacteria and tens of thousands taxa of bacteria, fungi and other soil biota. In other words, microbes represent the unseen majority of life on Earth. The significance of soil microbial diversity for plants and for the functioning of agricultural and natural ecosystems is still poorly understood. In our work we investigate how changes in soil microbial biodiversity and land use impact plants and ecosystem functioning. Specific attention is given to one of the oldest and most widespread symbiosis on the Earth, the symbiosis between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. We investigate effects of AM fungi and AM fungal diversity on plant growth, nutrient cycling and ecosystem sustainability. Our results demonstrate that soil microbial communities enhance the sustainability of agro-ecosystems by promoting plant nutrient uptake and reducing nutrient losses. Our recent results revealed that the loss of soil biodiversity impairs ecosystem functioning and reduces ecosystem multifunctionality.


Recent Publications

  • Widespread occurrence of pesticides in organically managed agricultural soils – the ghost of a conventional agricultural past?
    Judith Riedo, Felix E. Wettstein, Andrea Rösch, Chantal Herzog, Samiran Banerjee, Lucie Büchi, Raphaël Charles, Daniel Wächter, Fabrice Martin-Laurent, Thomas D. Bucheli, Florian Walder, and Marcel G. A. van der Heijden
    Environmental Science & Technology   JAN 2021
  • Agricultural diversification promotes multiple ecosystem services without compromising yield
    Tamburini, Giovanni; Bommarco, Riccardo; Wanger, Thomas Cherico; Kremen, Claire; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; et al.
    Science Advances 10.1126/sciadv.aba1715  NOV 2020
  • Symbiotic soil fungi enhance resistance and resilience of an experimental grassland to drought and nitrogen deposition
    Jia, Yangyang; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; Wagg, Cameron; Feng, Gu; Walder, Florian
    Journal Of Ecology 10.1111/1365-2745.13521  OCT 2020
  • A closer look at the functions behind ecosystem multifunctionality: A review
    Garland, Gina; Banerjee, Samiran; Edlinger, Anna; Miranda Oliveira, Emily; Herzog, Chantal; et al.
    Journal Of Ecology, 10.1111/1365-2745.13511 OCT 2020
  • Cover crops as a tool to reduce reliance on intensive tillage and nitrogen fertilization in conventional arable cropping systems
    Wittwer, Raphael A.; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.
  • Cropping practices manipulate abundance patterns of root and soil microbiome members paving the way to smart farming (vol 6, 14, 2018)
    Hartman, Kyle; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; Wittwer, Raphael A.; Banerjee, Samiran; Walser, Jean-Claude; et al.
    Microbiome  DOI: 10.1186/s40168-020-00855-4  Published: MAY 17 2020
    Field Crops Research, 10.1016/j.fcr.2020.107736, APR 1 2020
  • Petunia- and Arabidopsis-Specific Root Microbiota Responses to Phosphate Supplementation
    Bodenhausen, Natacha; Somerville, Vincent; Desiro, Alessandro; Walser, Jean-Claude; Borghi, Lorenzo; et al.
    Phytobiomes Journal   DOI: 10.1094/PBIOMES-12-18-0057-R  Published: 2019
  • Crop yield, weed cover and ecosystem multifunctionality are not affected by the duration of organic management
    Herzog, Chantal; Honegger, Adrian; Hegglin, Django; Wittwer, Raphael; de Ferron, Anne; et al.
    Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment,  DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2019.106596, Published: NOV 15 2019
  • Fungal-bacterial diversity and microbiome complexity predict ecosystem functioning
    Wagg, Cameron; Schlaeppi, Klaus; Banerjee, Samiran; Kuramae, Eiko E.; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.
    Nature Communications,  DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12798-y, OCT 24 2019
  • Comparable bacterial-mediated nitrogen supply and losses under organic reduced tillage and conventional intensive tillage
    Puerta, Viviana Loaiza; Six, Johan; Wittwer, Raphael; van der Heijden, Marcel; Pereira, Engil Isadora Pujol
    European Journal Of Soil Biology,  DOI: 10.1016/j.ejsobi.2019.103121, NOV-DEC 2019
  • Potential of indicators to unveil the hidden side of cropping system classification: Differences and similarities in cropping practices between conventional, no-till and organic systems
    Buchi, L; Georges, F; Walder, F; Banerjee, S; Keller, T; Six, J; van der Heijden, M; Charles, R
    EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF AGRONOMY, 109 10.1016/j.eja.2019.125920 SEP 2019
  • Drought modulates interactions between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal diversity and barley genotype diversity
    Sendek, A; Karakoc, C; Wagg, C; Dominguez-Begines, J; do Couto, GM; van der Heijden, MGA; Naz, AA; Lochner, A; Chatzinotas, A; Klotz, S; Gomez-Aparicio, L; Eisenhauer, N
    SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 9 10.1038/s41598-019-45702-1 JUL 4 2019
  • Agricultural intensification reduces microbial network complexity and the abundance of keystone taxa in roots
    Banerjee, S; Walder, F; Buchi, L; Meyer, M; Held, AY; Gattinger, A; Keller, T; Charles, R; van der Heijden, MGA
    ISME JOURNAL, 13 (7):1722-1736; 10.1038/s41396-019-0383-2 JUL 2019
  • Molecular dialogue between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and the nonhost plant Arabidopsis thaliana switches from initial detection to antagonism
    Fernandez, I; Cosme, M; Stringlis, IA; Yu, K; de Jong, R; van Wees, SCM; Pozo, MJ; Pieterse, CMJ; van der Heijden, MGA
    NEW PHYTOLOGIST, 223 (2):867-881; 10.1111/nph.15798 JUL 2019
  • Establishment success and crop growth effects of an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus inoculated into Swiss corn fields
    Bender, SF; Schlaeppi, K; Held, A; Van der Heijden, MGA
    AGRICULTURE ECOSYSTEMS & ENVIRONMENT, 273 13-24; 10.1016/j.agee.2018.12.003 MAR 1 2019
  • Why farmers should manage the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis
    Rillig, MC; Aguilar-Trigueros, CA; Camenzind, T; Cavagnaro, TR; Degrune, F; Hohmann, P; Lammel, DR; Mansour, I; Roy, J; van der Heijden, MGA; Yang, GW
    NEW PHYTOLOGIST, 222 (3):1171-1175; 10.1111/nph.15602 MAY 2019
  • On-farm study reveals positive relationship between gas transport capacity and organic carbon content in arable soil
    Colombi, T; Walder, F; Buchi, L; Sommer, M; Liu, KX; Six, J; van der Heijden, MGA; Charles, R; Keller, T
    SOIL, 5 (1):91-105; 10.5194/soil-5-91-2019 MAR 19 2019
  • Reply to 'Can we predict microbial keystones?'
    Banerjee, S; Schlaeppi, K; van der Heijden, MGA
    NATURE REVIEWS MICROBIOLOGY, 17 (3):194-194; 10.1038/s41579-018-0133-x MAR 2019
  • The impact of long-term organic farming on soil-derived greenhouse gas emissions
    Skinner, C; Gattinger, A; Krauss, M; Krause, HM; Mayer, J; van der Heijden, MGA; Mader, P
    SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 9 10.1038/s41598-018-38207-w FEB 8 2019
  • Conservation tillage and organic farming reduce soil erosion
    Seitz, S; Goebes, P; Puerta, VL; Pereira, EIP; Wittwer, R; Six, J; van der Heijden, MGA; Scholten, T
    AGRONOMY FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, 39 (1):10.1007/s13593-018-0545-z FEB 2019
Van der Heijden Marcel

Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden
University of Zurich
Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (IPMB)
8008 Zurich

Tel: +41 (0)58 468 72 78

Research topics

  • Soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
  • Mycorrhizal ecology
  • Ecosystem sustainability 
  • Microbial control of nutrient cycling and plant nutrient uptake



  • Ecosystem ecology and ecosystem multifunctionality
  • Molecular cross-talk between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Plant-microbe interactions
  • Responses of plants and soil organisms to agricultural management and environmental change