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Plants and soil-borne fungi interact in reciprocal relationships that have implications for the community structure of both groups. Plant communities are known to affect the composition of fungal communities, and conversely, the diversity of some fungi has been found to positively correlate with plant diversity. Increasingly rapid declines in global biodiversity have encouraged the development of new strategies for plant community restoration, prompting recent studies into the effects of soil fungal amendments in restoration contexts. Across the board, these studies have reported improved native plant growth when plants are inoculated with soils from less-disturbed areas. This suggests that soils from more diverse communities may better support the growth of future high-diversity communities, however, this question has not been experimentally tested. In this study, I asked whether the diversity of current plant communities predicts the diversity of novel plants grown in that soil and whether that relationship is microbially mediated. To test this, I seeded uniform communities of plant species native to the Hudson Valley region of New York in mesocosms inoculated with soils from old field plant communities differing in two metrics of above-ground diversity – species richness and evenness. In addition, I paired live and sterile inoculum treatments to assess whether any relationship between current and future diversity was microbially mediated. I found that soils from field plots with a higher plant diversity also produced mesocosms with higher diversity communities, but only when measuring evenness. Additionally, this positive relationship was present only in the live inoculum treatments, suggesting microbial mediation. As the first test, to my knowledge, of the correlation between current and future diversity of plant communities, my findings begin to fill a fundamental gap in our understanding of plant-microbial interactions and offer insight for researchers looking to restore plant communities.
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Douglas, Mary AM, "Soil microbes drive the positive relationship between current and future evenness in old field plant communities" (2023). Senior Projects Spring 2023. 67.
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