Functional diversity of microbial decomposers facilitates plant coexistence in a plant-microbe-soil feedback model

Takeshi Miki*, Masayuki Ushio, Shin Fukui, Michio Kondoh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


Theory and empirical evidence suggest that plant-soil feedback (PSF) determines the structure of a plant community and nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. The plant community alters the nutrient pool size in soil by affecting litter decomposition processes, which in turn shapes the plant community, forming a PSF system. However, the role of microbial decomposers in PSF function is often overlooked, and it remains unclear whether decomposers reinforce or weaken litter-mediated plant control over nutrient cycling. Here, we present a theoreticalmodel incorporating the functional diversity of both plants and microbial decomposers. Two fundamental microbial processes are included that control nutrient mineralization from plant litter: (i) assimilation of mineralized nutrient into the microbial biomass (microbial immobilization), and (ii) release of the microbial nutrients into the inorganic nutrient pool (net mineralization).With this model, we show thatmicrobial diversitymay act as a buffer thatweakens plant control over the soil nutrient pool, reversing the sign of PSF from positive to negative and facilitating plant coexistence. This is explained by the decoupling of litter decomposability and nutrient pool size arising from a flexible change in the microbial community composition and decomposition processes in response to variations in plant litter decomposability. Our results suggest that themicrobial community plays a central role in PSF function and the plant community structure. Furthermore, the results strongly imply that the plant-centered view of nutrient cycling should be changed to a plant-microbe-soil feedback system, by incorporating the community ecology of microbial decomposers and their functional diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14251-14256
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Aug 10
Externally publishedYes


  • Buffering effect
  • Ecological model
  • Microbial community
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Plant-soil feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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