The role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and glomalin in soil aggregation: comparing effects of five plant species

Abstract

Soil aggregation and soil structure are fundamental properties of natural and managed ecosystems. However, most of our knowledge on the role of plant species in soil aggregation is derived from work in agroecosystems or with agriculturally important plants. Here we examined the effects of five plant species on soil aggregate water stability. The five species (three grasses, one forb, and a legume) were from the same natural grassland, and were grown in monoculture plots in the field. Our first goal was to test if productivity-related or species-specific factors would prevail in determining soil aggregation. We also tested what the relative importance of the soil protein glomalin (produced by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, AMF) in soil aggregation is, compared to other factors, including AMF hyphal and root length and percent plant cover. We found significant differences in soil aggregate water stability (1–2 mm size class) for the five plant species examined, and corresponding differences in plant cover, root weight and length, AMF soil hyphal length, and glomalin concentrations. A structural equation modeling approach (path analysis) was used to distinguish direct from indirect effects of factors on soil aggregation based on covariance structures. Root length, soil glomalin, and percent cover contributed equally strong paths to water-stable aggregation. The direct effect of glomalin was much stronger than the direct effect of AMF hyphae themselves, suggesting that this protein is involved in a very important hypha-mediated mechanism of soil aggregate stabilization, at least for the 1–2-mm size class of aggregates.

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Correspondence to Matthias C. Rillig.

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Rillig, M.C., Wright, S.F. & Eviner, V.T. The role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and glomalin in soil aggregation: comparing effects of five plant species. Plant and Soil 238, 325–333 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1014483303813

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  • Grassland
  • hyphae
  • path analysis
  • water-stable aggregates