Soil microbiomes underlie population persistence of an endangered plant species

Aaron S. David, Pedro F. Quintana-Ascencio, Eric S. Menges, Khum B. Thapa-Magar, Michelle E. Afkhami, Christopher A. Searcy

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Microbiomes can dramatically alter individual plant performance, yet how these effects influence higher-order processes is not well resolved. In particular, little is known about how microbiome effects on individual plants alter plant population dynamics, a question critical to imperiled species conservation. Here we integrate bioassays, multidecadal demographic data, and integral projection modeling to determine how the presence of the natural soil microbiome underlies plant population dynamics. Simulations indicated that the presence of soil microbiomes boosted population growth rates (l) of the endangered Hypericum cumulicola by 13% on average, the difference between population growth versus decline in 76% of patches. The greatest benefit (47% increase in l) occurredinlow-nutrient, high-elevation habitats, suggesting that the soil microbiome may help expand H. cumulicola’s distribution to include these stressful habitats. Our results demonstrate that soil microbiomes can significantly affect plant population growth and persistence and support the incorporation of soil microbiomes into conservation planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)488-494
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Demography
  • Endangered species
  • Florida rosemary scrub
  • Hypericum cumulicola
  • Integral projection modeling
  • Plant-microbe interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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