Direct, positive feedbacks produce instability in models of interrelationships among soil structure, plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Tancredi Caruso*, Matthias C. Rillig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Current conceptual models of reciprocal interactions linking soil structure, plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi emphasise positive feedbacks among the components of the system. However, dynamical systems with high dimensionality and several positive feedbacks (i.e. mutualism) are prone to instability. Further, organisms such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are obligate biotrophs of plants and are considered major biological agents in soil aggregate stabilization. With these considerations in mind, we developed dynamical models of soil ecosystems that reflect the main features of current conceptual models and empirical data, especially positive feedbacks and linear interactions among plants, AMF and the component of soil structure dependent on aggregates. We found that systems become increasingly unstable the more positive effects with Type I functional response (i.e., the growth rate of a mutualist is modified by the density of its partner through linear proportionality) are added to the model, to the point that increasing the realism of models by adding linear effects produces the most unstable systems. The present theoretical analysis thus offers a framework for modelling and suggests new directions for experimental studies on the interrelationship between soil structure, plants and AMF. Non-linearity in functional responses, spatial and temporal heterogeneity, and indirect effects can be invoked on a theoretical basis and experimentally tested in laboratory and field experiments in order to account for and buffer the local instability of the simplest of current scenarios. This first model presented here may generate interest in more explicitly representing the role of biota in soil physical structure, a phenomenon that is typically viewed in a more process- and management-focused context. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1198-1206
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • Dynamical system
  • Soil
  • Structure
  • AMF
  • Plants
  • Organism


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