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

  • 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
  • Potentials to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from Swiss agriculture
    Necpalova, M; Lee, J; Skinner, C; Buchi, L; Wittwer, R; Gattinger, A; van der Heijden, M; Mader, P; Charles, R; Berner, A; Mayer, J; Six, J
    AGRICULTURE ECOSYSTEMS & ENVIRONMENT, 265 84-102; 10.1016/j.agee.2018.05.013 OCT 1 2018
  • A global meta-analysis of yield stability in organic and conservation agriculture
    Knapp, Samuel; van der Heijden, Marcel G.A.
    NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 9 10.1038/s41467-018-05956-1 SEP 7 2018
  • Linking microbial co-occurrences to soil ecological processes across a woodland-grassland ecotone
    Banerjee, S; Thrall, PH; Bissett, A; van der Heijden, MGA; Richardson, AE
    ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION, 8 (16):8217-8230; 10.1002/ece3.4346 AUG 2018
  • Keystone taxa as drivers of microbiome structure and functioning
    Banerjee, S; Schlaeppi, K; van der Heijden, MGA
    NATURE REVIEWS MICROBIOLOGY, 16 (9):567-576; 10.1038/s41579-018-0024-1 SEP 2018
  • Conservation tillage and organic farming induce minor variations in Pseudomonas abundance, their antimicrobial function and soil disease resistance
    Dennert F; Imperiali N; Staub C; Schneider J; Laessle T; Zhang T; Wittwer R; van der Heijden MG; Smits THM; Schlaeppi K; Keel C; Maurhofer M
    FEMS MICROBIOLOGY ECOLOGY, 94 (8):10.1093/femsec/fiy075 AUG 2018
  • Impact of organic and conventional farming systems on wheat grain uptake and soil bioavailability of zinc and cadmium
    Schweizer SA; Seitz B; van der Heijden MGA; Schulin R; Tandy S
    SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 639 608-616; 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.187 OCT 15 2018
  • Improvement of soil structure through organic crop management, conservation tillage and grass-clover ley
    Puerta, VL; Pereira, EIP; Wittwer, R; van der Heijden, M; Six, J
    SOIL & TILLAGE RESEARCH, 180 1-9; 10.1016/j.still.2018.02.007 AUG 2018
Van der Heijden Marcel

Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden
University of Zurich
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
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