The microbial contribution to litter decomposition and plant growth

Changfeng Zhang, Simone de Pasquale, Kyle Hartman, Claire E. Stanley, Roeland L. Berendsen, Marcel G.A. van der Heijden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Soil and plant roots are colonized by highly complex and diverse communities of microbes. It has been proposed that bacteria and fungi have synergistic effects on litter decomposition, but experimental evidence supporting this claim is weak. In this study, we manipulated the composition of two microbial kingdoms (Bacteria and Fungi) in experimental microcosms. In microcosms that were inoculated with fungi, litter loss was 47% higher than in microcosms that were not inoculated or only inoculated with bacteria. Combined inoculation with both bacteria and fungi did not significantly enhance decomposition compared with the fungi-only treatments, and, as such, we found no evidence for complementary effects using our experimental setup. Inoculation with fungi also had a positive impact on plant growth after 4 and 8 weeks (480% and 710% growth stimulation, respectively). After 16 weeks, plant biomass was highest in microcosms where both bacteria and fungi were present pointing to fungal-bacterial complementarity in stimulating plant growth. Overall, this study suggests that fungi are the main decomposers of plant litter and that the inoculated fungi contribute to plant growth in our experimental system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13205
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology Reports
Issue number1
Early online date29 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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