Local variation in conspecific plant density influences plant-soil feedback in a natural grassland

M. Kos, Johan Veendrick, T.M. Bezemer

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Several studies have argued that under field conditions plant–soil feedback may be related to the local density of a plant species, but plant–soil feedback is often studied by comparing conspecific and heterospecific soils or by using mixed soil samples collected from different locations and plant densities. We examined whether the growth of the early successional species Jacobaea vulgaris in soil collected from the field is related to the local variation in plant density of this species. In a grassland restoration site, we selected eight 8 m × 8 m plots, four with high and four with low densities of J. vulgaris plants. In 16 subplots in each plot we recorded the density and size of J. vulgaris, and characteristics of the vegetation and the soil chemistry. Soil collected from each subplot was used in a greenhouse pot-experiment to study the growth of J. vulgaris, both in pure field soil and in sterile soil inoculated with a small part of field soil. In the field, flowering J. vulgaris plants were taller, the percentage of rosette plants was higher and seed density was larger in High- than in Low-density plots. In the pot experiment, J. vulgaris had a negative plant–soil feedback, but biomass was also lower in soil collected from High- than from Low-density plots, although only when growing in inoculated soil. Regression analyses showed that J. vulgaris biomass of plants growing in pure soil was related to soil nutrients, but also to J. vulgaris density in the field. We conclude that in the field there is local variation in the negative plant–soil feedback of J. vulgaris and that this variation can be explained by the local density of J. vulgaris, but also by other factors such as nutrient availability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506-514
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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