Industrial agriculture relies on tillage and huge inputs of fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides – all of which decrease the abundance, effectiveness, and diversity of mycorrhizal fungal networks. A recent study found the abundance of fungal networks was higher in organically managed fields, and the fungal communities were also far more complex: twenty-seven species of fungi were identified as highly connected, or ‘keystone species’, compared with none in the conventionally managed fields. Frequent and aggressive tillage disrupts fungal communities, leading to significant decreases in biomass and diversity compared to no-till systems. Application of fungicides further impairs fungal networks, reducing phosphorus uptake in croplands by more than 40%. The negative effects of agricultural practices spill out far beyond farmers’ fields. A large study published in 2018 suggested that the ‘alarming deterioration’ of the health of trees across Europe was caused by a disruption of their mycorrhizal relationships, brought about by nitrogen pollution.
- Banerjee, S. et al. “Agricultural intensification reduces microbial network complexity and the abundance of keystone taxa in roots.” ISME J 13(7), 1722-1736 (2019)
- Edlinger, A. et al. “Agricultural management and pesticide use reduce the phosphorus uptake capability of beneficial plant symbionts.” PREPRINT (Version 1) available at Research Square (2021)
- van der Linde, S. et al. “Environment and host as large-scale controls of ectomycorrhizal fungi.” Nature 558, 243-248 (2018)
- Wang, Q. et al. “The impact of cropping system, tillage and season on shaping soil fungal community in a long-term field trial.” Eur. J. Soil Biol. 102, 1164-5563 (2021)