Farm management choice can benefit fungi key to healthy ecosystems

Sep 13, 2010

Farming practices have a significant impact on the diversity of beneficial microbial fungi known to play important roles in crop productivity, soil recovery and maintenance of healthy ecosystems, according to new research published today in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The conclusions could have important implications for the way humans manage the agricultural landscape and tackle food security issues.

The study was led by Dr Christopher van der Gast at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), UK and Dr Gary Bending from the University of Warwick, UK.

The research team investigated the distribution of important arbuscular mycorrhizal (AMF), at nine arable and horticultural farms in England, with collected from both organically and conventionally managed fields at each farm.

The results of the study indicate that farm management has a significant impact on AMF richness, with organic farming shown to promote higher diversity relative to conventional farming.

AMF are a vital component of terrestrial ecosystems, representing a dominant microbial group in most soil habitats. Within the soil AMF form a mutually beneficial relationship with plant roots that is known to have a major impact on above ground ecology and productivity. Previously AMF distribution in space and time, like many microbes that dominate the biodiversity of soils, was poorly understood.

Lead author Dr Christopher van der Gast, an environmental microbiologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "Our research demonstrates that the way humans manage the landscape can play a key role in determining the distribution of microbial communities at both the local and regional scales."

AMF community composition reflected strains adapted to both local soil conditions and the specific management practice imposed. The findings suggest that conventional management practices dampened local differences in community composition, selecting a limited assemblage of common strains.

Co-author Dr Gary Bending,from the University of Warwick, said, "The work provides us with new understanding which we can use to promote these fungi in agricultural systems. This in turn could improve crop production. With the proportion of the earth's surface which is managed by humans increasing rapidly, this understanding is essential if we are to predict and manage microbial functioning in the environment to meet many of the major challenges faced by human society, such as food supply and the mitigation of climate change. Addressing these challenges, whilst maintaining environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, requires an understanding of microbial diversity."

Explore further: Discovery in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Provided by Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

4.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

No-tillage plus

Jul 28, 2008

Tropical soils often behave differently than temperate soils when being farmed. In tropical regions, soils lose nutrients quickly when cultivated. With food shortages looming and soil quality declining rapidly, new farming ...

The sweet world of soil microbiology

May 01, 2008

Using classroom, hands-on activities can help instructors to communicate difficult scientific concepts and stimulate student thinking. Despite its importance, the diversity in soil microbes can conceptually be difficult to ...

A model to measure soil health in the era of bioenergy

Nov 19, 2008

One of the biggest threats to today's farmlands is the loss of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil organic matter (SOM) from poor land-management practices. The presence of these materials is essential as they do everything ...

Alternative farming cleans up water

Jul 19, 2007

Although the addition of nutrients to soil helps to maximize crop production, fertilizer can leach nutrients, polluting the water supply. A recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota shows alternative cropping ...

Recommended for you

Discovery in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

43 minutes ago

For four years, researchers at Universite catholique de Louvain have been trying to find out how bacteria can withstand antibiotics, so as to be able to attack them more effectively. These researchers now understand how one ...

Stem cells born out of indecision

43 minutes ago

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have gained new insight into embryonic stem cells and how blocking their ability to make choices explains why they stay as stem cells in culture. The results have just been published ...

Protection of the mouse gut by mucus depends on microbes

3 hours ago

The quality of the colon mucus in mice depends on the composition of gut microbiota, reports a Swedish-Norwegian team of researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.