Soil engineering ants increase grass root arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization
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The role of edaphic factors in driving the relationship between plant community structure and ecosystem processes is a key issue of the current debate on functional implications of biodiversity. In this study, we draw a direct link between aboveground/belowground relationships, vegetation structure, and aboveground management. We used ground nesting ants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) as an example for quantifying the role of biotic interactions in soil. Although both groups are known to have a major impact on grasslands, the interactive effect of these taxa on vegetation structure and its sensitivity to grassland management is poorly understood. We show that the ant Lasius flavus increases the root arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization (AMC) of grasses by modifying biotic and abiotic soil properties. As a possible consequence, the shoot length of grass growing on ant mounds was shorter and shoot N and P concentrations were higher than in grass growing off of the mounds. In addition, management affected ant nest architecture and soil and, in turn, AMC. These results emphasize the need to consider the interactions between plants, soil microorganisms, soil fauna, and aboveground management to increase the understanding of the drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in grasslands both aboveground and belowground.
KeywordsBelowground species interactions Ecosystem engineering Ecosystem functioning Formicidae Soil biota
This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the framework of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 299. We thank S. Hepp for helping with the fieldwork and in the laboratory and W.E. Kunin for making valuable comments on the manuscript.
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