Effects of root decomposition on plant–soil feedback of early– and mid–successional plant species.

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Plant–soil feedback (PSF) is an important driver of plant community dynamics. Many studies have emphasized the role of pathogens and symbiotic mutualists in PSFs; however, less is known about the contribution of decomposing litter, especially that of roots.
We conducted a PSF experiment, where soils were conditioned by living early- and mid-successional grasses and forbs with and without decomposing roots of conspecific species (conditioning phase). These soils were used to test growth responses of conspecific and heterospecific plant species (feedback phase).
The addition of the roots of conspecifics decreased the biomass of both early- and mid-successional plant species in the conditioning phase. In the feedback phase, root addition had positive effects on the biomass of early-successional species and neutral effects on mid-successional species, except when mid-successional grasses were grown in soils conditioned by conspecifics, where effects were negative. Biomass of early- and mid-successional forbs was generally reduced in soils conditioned by conspecifics.
We conclude that root decomposition may increase short-term negative PSF effects, but that the effects can become neutral to positive over time, thereby counteracting negative components of PSF. This implies that root decomposition is a key element of PSF and needs to be included in future studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-231
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Early online date23 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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