Plant-soil feedbacks: role of plant functional group and plant traits

R. Cortois, T. Schröder-Georgi, A. Weigelt, W.H. van der Putten, G.B. De Deyn

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Plant-soil feedback (PSF), plant trait and functional group concepts advanced our understanding of plant community dynamics, but how they are interlinked is poorly known. To test how plant functional groups (FGs: graminoids, small herbs, tall herbs, legumes) and plant traits relate to PSF, we grew 48 grassland species in sterilized soil, sterilized soil with own species soil inoculum and sterilized soil with soil inoculum from all species, and quantified relative growth rate (RGR), specific leaf area (SLA), specific root length (SRL) and per cent arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonization (%AMF). Plant growth response to the plant species' own soil biota relative to sterilized soil (PSFsterilized) reflects net effects of all (generalist+specialized) soil biota. Growth response to the plant species' own soil biota relative to soil biota of all plant species (PSFaway) reveals effects of more specialized soil organisms. PSFsterilized showed that graminoids and small herbs have a negative and tall herbs a positive response to their own soil biota, whereas legumes responded neutrally. However, PSFaway showed that on average, all plant FGs benefitted from growing with other species' soil biota, suggesting that pathogens are more specialized than plant growth-promoting soil biota. Feedback to plant growth from all soil biota (PSFsterilized) was stronger than from more specialized soil biota (PSFaway) and could be predicted by SRL and especially by %AMF colonization. Species with high SRL and low %AMF colonization when grown in away soil experienced most negative soil feedback.Synthesis. Plant species from all plant FGs grow better in soil from other species because of less net negative effects of soil biota (in graminoids), or because of more net positive soil biota effects (in tall herbs). Explorative plant species (high SRL, low %AMF colonization) suffer most from negative feedback of all soil biota, whereas more resource conservative species (low SRL, high %AMF colonization) benefit from soil feedback of all soil biota. These findings help to understand replacement of explorative species during succession. Moreover, we suggest a potentially larger role for species with positive feedback than for species with negative feedback to contribute to maintain plant community productivity of diverse communities over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1608-1617
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date24 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


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