The influence of soil age on ecosystem structure and function across biomes

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Peter B. Reich, Richard D. Bardgett, David J. Eldridge, Hans Lambers, David A. Wardle, Sasha C. Reed, César Plaza, G. Kenny Png, Sigrid Neuhauser, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Stephen C. Hart, Hang Wei Hu, Ji Zheng He, Felipe Bastida, Sebastián Abades, Fernando D. Alfaro, Nick A. Cutler, Antonio Gallardo, Laura García-VelázquezPatrick E. Hayes, Zeng Yei Hseu, Cecilia A. Pérez, Fernanda Santos, Christina Siebe, Pankaj Trivedi, Benjamin W. Sullivan, Luis Weber-Grullon, Mark A. Williams, Noah Fierer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The importance of soil age as an ecosystem driver across biomes remains largely unresolved. By combining a cross-biome global field survey, including data for 32 soil, plant, and microbial properties in 16 soil chronosequences, with a global meta-analysis, we show that soil age is a significant ecosystem driver, but only accounts for a relatively small proportion of the cross-biome variation in multiple ecosystem properties. Parent material, climate, vegetation and topography predict, collectively, 24 times more variation in ecosystem properties than soil age alone. Soil age is an important local-scale ecosystem driver; however, environmental context, rather than soil age, determines the rates and trajectories of ecosystem development in structure and function across biomes. Our work provides insights into the natural history of terrestrial ecosystems. We propose that, regardless of soil age, changes in the environmental context, such as those associated with global climatic and land-use changes, will have important long-term impacts on the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems across biomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4721
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 18 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 702057 (CLIMIFUN). M.D.-B. is supported by a Ramón y Cajal grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (RYC2018-025483-I), and by the BES Grant Agreement No. LRB17\1019 (MUSGONET). F.B. is grateful to the Spanish Ministry and FEDER funds for the project AGL2017–85755-R, the i-LINK+2018 (LINKA20069) from CSIC, and received funds from “Fundación Séneca” from Murcia Province (19896/GERM/15). S.R. was supported by the US Geological Survey Ecosystems Mission Area. C.P. acknowledges support from the Spanish State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation (2013–2016), award ref. AGL201675762-R (AEI/FEDER, UE). A.G. acknowledges support from the Spanish Ministry of Science (CGL2017-88124-R). F.A. is supported by FONDECYT 11180538 and S.A. by FONDECYT 1170995. We would like to thank Peter Vitousek for his comments on a previous draft of this paper. Moreover, we thank Matt Gebert, Jessica Henley, Fernando T. Maestre, Victoria Ochoa, and Beatriz Gozalo for their help with lab analyses, and Emilio Guirado for his advice with topographic analyses. We also want to thank Osvaldo Sala, Matthew A. Bowker, Peter Vitousek, Courtney Currier, Martin Kirchmair, Victor M. Peña-Ramírez, Lynn Riedel, Julie Larson, Katy Waechter, David Buckner, and Brian Anacker for their help with soil sampling, and to the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks for allowing us to conduct these samplings. We are also grateful to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife of the State of Hawai’i and Koke’e State Park for their logistical assistance and for allowing us access to the HA sites. The Arizona research sites were established with the support of an EPA‐ STAR Graduate Fellowship (U‐916251), a Merriam‐Powell Center for Environmental Research Graduate Fellowship, an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation of Arizona Scholarship, and McIntire‐Stennis appropriations to Northern Arizona University and the State of Arizona. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Bacteria/classification
  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Biota
  • Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Fungi/classification
  • Microbiota
  • Plants/classification
  • Soil/chemistry
  • Time Factors

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'The influence of soil age on ecosystem structure and function across biomes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this