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An Odyssey without borders: soil microbiota as drivers of plant species coexistence along successional gradients

Project description

Understanding plant coexistence for effective biodiversity restoration

Human actions and the consequences of climate change have given rise to a global biodiversity crisis, leading to significant anticipated losses in biodiversity. Organisations and countries are implementing policies to counteract these negative effects, safeguard ecosystems and facilitate biodiversity restoration. However, the requirement for a more profound understanding of plant coexistence poses a challenge for these initiatives. The EU-funded BelowGround project harnesses plant, soil and microbial ecology, in conjunction with coexistence theory, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the influence of pathogens and mutualists on plant coexistence. The project’s discoveries will enable the development of tailored solutions vital for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems as well as for promotion of biodiversity.


Our planet is in a biodiversity crisis. To counteract biodiversity loss, the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to protect vulnerable ecosystems, reverse ecosystem degradation, and restore biodiversity on agricultural land. However, successful restoration and conservation of plant diversity is hindered by limited understanding of the principles that govern the ability of plant species to coexist and drive plant diversity. My proposed research aims to address the major challenge of restoration and conservation of plant diversity by examining how soil microorganisms contribute to plant species coexistence.

My project will draw together fundamental coexistence theory and state-of-the-art knowledge from plant ecology, microbial ecology and soil ecology to reconcile how pathogens and mutualists drive plant coexistence. To develop successful strategies of conservation and restoration of plant diversity it is critical to define a single predictive theory on the role of soil microbes in plant coexistence. I propose to reconcile pathogen- and mutualist-driven coexistence hypotheses into a single framework by addressing two objectives:

Along a successional vegetation gradient in which belowground interactions switch from pathogen to mutualist dominated, I will 1) identify which pathogenic and mutualistic microbes plants accumulate with increasing intra-specific density, and 2) determine how these soil microbes influence host plant coexistence.

Results will uncover the role of pathogens and mutualists in driving coexistence and whether these different groups of players are mutually exclusive or act simultaneously. This will lay the foundation for urgent tailor-made applied research on the key processes that need conservation and restoration of grassland systems, and uncover the drivers that steer plant community succession towards biodiverse ecosystems.


Net EU contribution
€ 203 464,32

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
No data