Plant-litter-soil feedbacks in common grass species are slightly negative and only marginally modified by litter exposed to insect herbivory

Jonathan R. De Long* (Corresponding author), Robin Heinen, S. Emilia Hannula, Renske Jongen, Katja Steinauer, T. Martijn Bezemer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Insect herbivory affects plant growth, nutrient and secondary metabolite concentrations and litter quality. Changes to litter quality due to insect herbivory can alter decomposition, with knock on effects for plant growth mediated through the plant-litter-soil feedback pathway. Methods: Using a multi-phase glasshouse experiment, we tested how changes in shoot and root litter quality of fast- and slow-growing grass caused by insect herbivores affect the performance of response plants in the soil in which the litter decomposed. Results: We found that insect herbivory resulted in marginal changes to litter quality and did not affect growth when plants were grown with fast- versus slow-growing litter. Overall, presence of litter resulted in reduced root and shoot growth and this effect was significantly more negative in shoots versus roots. However, this effect was minimal, with a loss of c. 1.4% and 3.1% dry weight biomass in roots versus shoots, respectively. Further, shoot litter exposed to insect herbivory interacted with response plant identity to affect root growth. Conclusions: Our results suggest that whether litter originates from plant tissues exposed to insect herbivory or not and its interaction with fast- versus slow-growing grasses is of little importance, but species-specific responses to herbivory-conditioned litter can occur. Taken collectively, the overall role of the plant-litter-soil feedback pathway, as well as its interaction with insect herbivory, is unlikely to affect broader ecosystem processes in this system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Above-belowground interactions
  • Decomposition
  • Herbivory
  • Plant economics spectrum
  • Plant-soil-litter feedbacks

Research theme

  • Biodiversity


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