Decreased plant productivity resulting from plant group removal experiment constrains soil microbial functional diversity

Ximei Zhang, Eric R. Johnston, Albert Barberán, Yi Ren, Xiaotao Lü, Xingguo Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic environmental changes are accelerating the rate of biodiversity loss on Earth. Plant diversity loss is predicted to reduce soil microbial diversity primarily due to the decreased variety of carbon/energy resources. However, this intuitive hypothesis is supported by sparse empirical evidence, and most underlying mechanisms remain underexplored or obscure altogether. We constructed four diversity gradients (0–3) in a five-year plant functional group removal experiment in a steppe ecosystem in Inner Mongolia, China, and quantified microbial taxonomic and functional diversity with shotgun metagenome sequencing. The treatments had little effect on microbial taxonomic diversity, but were found to decrease functional gene diversity. However, the observed decrease in functional gene diversity was more attributable to a loss in plant productivity, rather than to the loss of any individual plant functional group per se. Reduced productivity limited fresh plant resources supplied to microorganisms, and thus, intensified the pressure of ecological filtering, favoring genes responsible for energy production/conversion, material transport/metabolism and amino acid recycling, and accordingly disfavored many genes with other functions. Furthermore, microbial respiration was correlated with the variation in functional composition but not taxonomic composition. Overall, the amount of carbon/energy resources driving microbial gene diversity was identified to be the critical linkage between above- and belowground communities, contrary to the traditional framework of linking plant clade/taxonomic diversity to microbial taxonomic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4318-4332
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • biodiversity
  • biodiversity loss
  • functional diversity
  • grassland
  • inner Mongolia
  • metagenome
  • microbial diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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