Just a matter of time: Fungi and roots significantly and rapidly aggregate soil over four decades along the Tagliamento River, NE Italy

Ulfah Mardhiah , Tancredi Caruso, Angela Gurnell, Matthias C. Rillig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Fluvial islands are emergent landforms which form at the interface between the permanently inundated areas of the river channel and the more stable areas of the floodplain as a result of interactions between physical river processes, wood and riparian vegetation. These highly dynamical systems are ideal to study soil structure development in the short to medium term, a process in which soil biota and plants play a substantial role. We investigated soil structure development on islands along a 40 year chronosequence within a 3 km island-braided reach of the Tagliamento River, Northeastern Italy. We used several parameters to capture different aspects of the soil structure, and measured biotic (e.g., fungal and plant root parameters) and abiotic (e.g. organic carbon) factors expected to determine the structure. We estimated models relating soil structure to its determinants, and, in order to confer statistical robustness to our results, we explicitly took into account spatial autocorrelation, which is present due to the space for time substitution inherent in the study of chronosequences and may have confounded results of previous studies. We found that, despite the eroding forces from the hydrological and geomorphological dynamics to which the system is subject, all soil structure variables significantly, and in some case greatly increased with site age. We interpret this as a macroscopic proxy for the major direct and indirect binding effects exerted by root variables and extraradical hyphae of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). Key soil structure parameters such as percentage of water stable aggregates (WSA) can double from the time the island landform is initiated (mean WSA = 30%) to the full 40 years (mean WSA = 64%) covered by our chronosequence. The study demonstrates the fundamental role of soil biota and plant roots in aggregating soils even in a system in which intense short to medium term physical disturbances are common.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133–142
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Early online date24 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


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