Microbiome-mediated effects of habitat fragmentation on native plant performance

Kasey N. Kiesewetter, Michelle E. Afkhami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Habitat fragmentation is a leading cause of biodiversity and ecosystem function loss in the Anthropocene. Despite the importance of plant–microbiome interactions to ecosystem productivity, we have limited knowledge of how fragmentation affects microbiomes and even less knowledge of its consequences for microbial interactions with plants. Combining field surveys, microbiome sequencing, manipulative experiments, and random forest models, we investigated fragmentation legacy effects on soil microbiomes in imperiled pine rocklands, tested how compositional shifts across 14 fragmentation-altered soil microbiomes affected performance and resource allocation of three native plant species, and identified fragmentation-responding microbial families underpinning plant performance. Legacies of habitat fragmentation were associated with significant changes in microbial diversity and composition (across three of four community axes). Experiments showed plants often strongly benefited from the microbiome’s presence, but fragmentation-associated changes in microbiome composition also significantly affected plant performance and resource allocation across all seven metrics examined. Finally, random forest models identified ten fungal and six bacterial families important for plant performance that changed significantly with fragmentation. Our findings not only support the existence of significant fragmentation effects on natural microbiomes, but also demonstrate for the first time that fragmentation-associated changes in microbiomes can have meaningful consequences for native plant performance and investment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1823-1838
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • habitat destruction
  • habitat fragmentation
  • microbial ecology
  • pine rocklands
  • plant–microbe interactions
  • random forest models
  • soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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