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There is considerable evidence that both plant diversity and plant identity can influence the level of predation and predator abundance aboveground. However, how the level of predation in the soil and the abundance of predatory soil fauna are related to plant diversity and identity remains largely unknown. In a biodiversity field experiment, we examined the effects of plant diversity and identity on the infectivity of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs, Heterorhabditis and Steinernema spp.), which prey on soil arthropods, and abundance of carnivorous non-EPNs, which are predators of other nematode groups. To obtain a comprehensive view of the potential prey/food availability, we also quantified the abundance of soil insects and nonpredatory nematodes and the root biomass in the experimental plots. We used structural equation modeling (SEM) to investigate possible pathways by which plant diversity and identity may affect EPN infectivity and the abundance of carnivorous non-EPNs. Heterorhabditis spp. infectivity and the abundance of carnivorous non-EPNs were not directly related to plant diversity or the proportion of legumes, grasses and forbs in the plant community. However, Steinernema spp. infectivity was higher in monocultures of Festuca rubra and Trifolium pratense than in monocultures of the other six plant species. SEM revealed that legumes positively affected Steinernema infectivity, whereas plant diversity indirectly affected the infectivity of Heterorhabditis EPNs via effects on the abundance of soil insects. The abundance of prey (soil insects and root-feeding, bacterivorous, and fungivorous nematodes) increased with higher plant diversity. The abundance of prey nematodes was also positively affected by legumes. These plant community effects could not be explained by changes in root biomass. Our results show that plant diversity and identity effects on belowground biota (particularly soil nematode community) can differ between organisms that belong to the same feeding guild and that generalizations about plant diversity effects on soil organisms should be made with great caution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)836-847
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume5
Issue number4
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • national

ID: 725905