Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 493–502
Understanding the factors that drive soil carbon (C) accumulation is of fundamental importance given their potential to mitigate climate change. Much research has focused on the relationship between plant traits and C sequestration, but no studies to date have quantitatively considered traits of their mycorrhizal symbionts. Here, we use a modelling approach to assess the contribution of an important mycorrhizal fungal trait, organic nutrient uptake, to soil C accumulation. We show that organic nutrient uptake can significantly increase soil C storage, and that it has a greater effect under nutrient-limited conditions. The main mechanism behind this was an increase in plant C fixation and subsequent increased C inputs to soil through mycorrhizal fungi. Reduced decomposition due to increased nutrient limitation of saprotrophs also played a role. Our results indicate that direct uptake of nutrients from organic pools by mycorrhizal fungi could have a significant effect on ecosystem C cycling and storage.