Rising atmospheric CO2 levels are predicted to have major consequences on carbon cycling and the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Increased photosynthetic activity is expected, especially for C-3 plants, thereby influencing vegetation dynamics; however, little is known about the path of fixed carbon into soil-borne communities and resulting feedbacks on ecosystem function. Here, we examine how arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) act as a major conduit in the transfer of carbon between plants and soil and how elevated atmospheric CO2 modulates the belowground translocation pathway of plant-fixed carbon. Shifts in active AMF species under elevated atmospheric CO2 conditions are coupled to changes within active rhizosphere bacterial and fungal communities. Thus, as opposed to simply increasing the activity of soil-borne microbes through enhanced rhizodeposition, elevated atmospheric CO2 clearly evokes the emergence of distinct opportunistic plant-associated microbial communities. Analyses involving RNA-based stable isotope probing, neutral/phosphate lipid fatty acids stable isotope probing, community fingerprinting, and real-time PCR allowed us to trace plant-fixed carbon to the affected soil-borne microorganisms. Based on our data, we present a conceptual model in which plant-assimilated carbon is rapidly transferred to AMF, followed by a slower release from AMF to the bacterial and fungal populations well-adapted to the prevailing (myco-)rhizosphere conditions. This model provides a general framework for reappraising carbon-flow paths in soils, facilitating predictions of future interactions between rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and terrestrial ecosystems. \ud \u
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