Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization consistently favor pathogenic over mutualistic fungi in grassland soils

Ylva Lekberg, Carlos A. Arnillas, Elizabeth Borer, Lorinda S. Bullington, Noah Fierer, Peter G. Kennedy, Jonathan W. Leff, Angela D. Luis, Eric Seabloom, Jeremiah A Henning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Ecosystems across the globe receive elevated inputs of nutrients, but the consequences of this for soil fungal guilds that mediate key ecosystem functions remain unclear. We find that nitrogen and phosphorus addition to 25 grasslands distributed across four continents promotes the relative abundance of fungal pathogens, suppresses mutualists, but does not affect saprotrophs. Structural equation models suggest that responses are often indirect and primarily mediated by nutrient-induced shifts in plant communities. Nutrient addition also reduces co-occurrences within and among fungal guilds, which could have important consequences for belowground interactions. Focusing only on plots that received no nutrient addition, soil properties influence pathogen abundance globally, whereas plant community characteristics influence mutualists, and climate influence saprotrophs. We show consistent, guild-level responses that enhance our ability to predict shifts in soil function related to anthropogenic eutrophication, which can have longer-term consequences for plant communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3484
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Authors are grateful to Nancy Johnson, Rich Philips, Jeff Gailus, and Mike McTee for helpful comments that improved earlier drafts of this manuscript. Authors also thank former undergraduate researchers Efemona Famati, Carter Linhardt, and Jessica Lettel-lier for their efforts measuring fungal colonization, CAA thanks George Arhonditsis for his support, and Y.L. and L.S.B. thank MPG Ranch for funding. This work was generated using data from the Nutrient Network ( experiment, funded at the site scale by individual researchers. Coordination and data management have been supported by funding to E.T.B. and E.W.S. from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network (NSF-DEB-1042132) and Long-Term Ecological Research (NSF-DEB-1234162 and NSF-DEB-1831944 to Cedar Creek LTER) programs, and the Institute on the Environment (DG-0001-13). We also thank the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute for hosting project data and the Institute on the Environment for hosting Network meetings. All authors are grateful to participating NutNet site scientists for generating the original data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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