Preparing for the worst: Utilizing stress-tolerant soil microbial communities to aid ecological restoration in the Anthropocene
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1. Multiple drivers of environmental change pose a significant challenge for ecological restoration, including climate change, soil salinization and environmental pollution. Due to the important role that soil biota play in enabling plants to cope with a variety of abiotic stressors, there is growing interest in the use of microbial inoculations to facilitate native plant restoration in the face of such change.
2. Recently, novel methods have begun being explored in agriculture to harness stress-conditioned soil biota for improving abiotic stress tolerance in crop species. Similar applications in ecological restoration – where plants are inoculated with indigenous soil microbial communities that are preconditioned to various abiotic stressors – could potentially increase our capacity to restore degraded ecosystems under global change.
3. In this paper, we aim to (1) outline the ways in which soil microbial communities might be conditioned in order to confer greater stress tolerance to plants that are targets for restoration; (2) highlight successful (and unsuccessful) examples where stress-tolerant soil microbial communities were utilized to improve plant performance; (3) describe the ways in which stress-conditioned soil biota could be deployed in order to assist ecological restoration; and (4) discuss the potential risks and outstanding questions associated with such an approach.
4. If restoration practitioners are able to harness the soil microbiome to improve plant stress tolerance as is currently being explored in agriculture, this could revolutionize methods for the restoration of degraded lands in the Anthropocene.
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