Global plant–symbiont organization and emergence of biogeochemical cycles resolved by evolution-based trait modelling

Mingzhen Lu, Lars O. Hedin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


One of the most distinct but unresolved global patterns is the apparent variation in plant–symbiont nutrient strategies across biomes. This pattern is central to our understanding of plant–soil–nutrient feedbacks in the land biosphere, which, in turn, are essential for our ability to predict the future dynamics of the Earth system. Here, we present an evolution-based trait-modelling approach for resolving (1) the organization of plant–symbiont relationships across biomes worldwide and (2) the emergent consequences for plant community composition and land biogeochemical cycles. Using game theory, we allow plants to use different belowground strategies to acquire nutrients and compete within local plant–soil–nutrient cycles in boreal, temperate and tropical biomes. The evolutionarily stable strategies that emerge from this analysis allow us to predict the distribution of belowground symbioses worldwide, the sequence and timing of plant succession, the bistability of ecto- versus arbuscular mycorrhizae in temperate and tropical forests, and major differences in the land carbon and nutrient cycles across biomes. Our findings imply that belowground symbioses have been central to the evolutionary assembly of plant communities and plant–nutrient feedbacks at the scale of land biomes. We conclude that complex global patterns emerge from local between-organism interactions in the context of Darwinian natural selection and evolution, and that the underlying dynamics can be mechanistically probed by our low-dimensional modelling approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-250
Number of pages12
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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