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

  • A coumarin exudation pathway mitigates arbuscular mycorrhizal incompatibility in Arabidopsis thaliana
    Cosme, Marco; Fernandez, Ivan; Declerck, Stephane; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; Pieterse, Corne M. J.
    Plant Molecular Biology 10.1007/s11103-021-01143-x  Early Access: APR 2021
  • Humidity and high temperature are important for predicting fungal disease outbreaks worldwide
    Romero, Ferran; Cazzato, Sabrina; Walder, Florian; Vogelgsang, Susanne; Bender, S. Franz; et al.
    New Phytologist, 10.1111/nph.17340,  APR 2021
  • Diversity and asynchrony in soil microbial communities stabilizes ecosystem functioning
    Wagg, Cameron; Hautier, Yann; Pellkofer, Sarah; Banerjee, Samiran; Schmid, Bernhard; et al.
    Elife, 10.7554/eLife.62813, MAR 23 2021
  • Erosion reduces soil microbial diversity, network complexity and multifunctionality
    Qiu, Liping; Zhang, Qian; Zhu, Hansong; Reich, Peter B.; Banerjee, Samiran; et al.
    Isme Journal, 10.1038/s41396-021-00913-1,  MAR 2021
  • Widespread Occurrence of Pesticides in Organically Managed Agricultural Soils-the Ghost of a Conventional Agricultural Past?
    Riedo, Judith; Wettstein, Felix E.; Rosch, Andrea; Herzog, Chantal; Banerjee, Samiran; et al.
    Environmental Science & Technology, 10.1021/acs.est.0c06405, MAR 2 2021
  • Relative qPCR to quantify colonization of plant roots by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
    Bodenhausen, Natacha; Deslandes-Herold, Gabriel; Waelchli, Jan; Held, Alain; van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; et al.
    Mycorrhiza, 10.1007/s00572-020-01014-1, MAR 2021
  • Crop cover is more important than rotational diversity for soil multifunctionality and cereal yields in European cropping systems
    Garland, Gina; Edlinger, Anna; Banerjee, Samiran; Degrune, Florine; Garcia-Palacios, Pablo; et al.
    Nature Food, 10.1038/s43016-020-00210-8, JAN 2021
  • Soil biodiversity and crop diversification are vital components of healthy soils and agricultural sustainability
    Zhang, Junling; Van der Heijden, Marcel G. A.; Zhang, Fusuo; Bender, S. Franz
    Frontiers Of Agricultural Science And Engineering, 10.15302/J-FASE-2020336, SEP 2020
  • 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
  • Enhanced root carbon allocation through organic farming is restricted to topsoils
    Hirte, Juliane; Walder, Florian; Hess, Julia; Buchi, Lucie; Colombi, Tino; et al.
    Science Of The Total Environment, 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143551, FEB 10 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
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