Peeking into the black box: A trait-based approach to predicting plant-soil feedback

P. Kardol, G.F. Veen, F.P. Teste, M.P. Perring

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Feedbacks between plants and soil communities may be elusive, yet
they have far-reaching consequences for plant physiology, competition
and community structure. Plant–soil feedbacks (PSFs) are
plant-mediated changes to soil properties that ultimately influence
the performance of the same or other plants (Van der Putten et al.,
2013). These PSFs may be mediated by root-associated organisms
(hereafter, root-mediated feedbacks) or saprotrophic organisms
and associated litter characteristics (hereafter, litter-mediated
feedbacks). However, we know little about the potential mechanistic
linkages and relative strengths between these distinct, but
connected, processes as root- and litter-mediated feedbacks have
generally been studied independently from each other. This is
despite the fact that root-associated organisms and saprotrophs can
interact through various mechanisms, either directly or as mediated
by the plant (e.g. Wardle, 2006). By using a trait-based approach,Ke
et al. (in this issue of New Phytologist, pp. 329–341) make an
important contribution by integrating root- and litter-mediated
PSFs in a nitrogen (N)-based, stage-structured plant population
and microbial community model. Their approach allows us to start
peeking into the ‘black box’ thereby promoting a better understanding
of how PSFs operate interactively. Ke et al. considered
various plant traits (e.g. decomposability), but also incorporated
trait variation in the physiology, demography and composition of
the soil microbial community, and tested their separate and
interactive effects on PSF strength in a comprehensive simulation
framework. Finally, they used empirical evidence from the
literature to support their model predictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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