Soil aggregate microbiomes steer plant community overyielding in ungrazed and intensively grazed grassland soils

Xiliang Li, Zhen Zhang, Xiaotao Lü, Yuanheng Li*, Ke Jin, Wim H. van der Putten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Plant and soil microbial community composition play a central role in maintaining ecosystem functioning. Most studies have focused on soil microbes in the bulk soil, the rhizosphere and inside plant roots, however, less is known about the soil community that exists within soil aggregates, and how these soil communities influence plant biomass production. Here, using field-conditioned soil collected from experimental ungrazed and grazed grasslands in Inner Mongolia, China, we examined the composition of microbiomes inside soil aggregates of various size classes, and determined their roles in plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs), diversity-productivity relationships, and diversity-dependent overyielding. We found that grazing induced significantly positive PSF effects, which appeared to be mediated by mycorrhizal fungi, particularly under plant monocultures. Despite this, non-additive effects of microbiomes within different soil aggregates enhanced the strength of PSF under ungrazed grassland, but decreased PSF strength under intensively grazed grassland. Plant mixture-related increases in PSF effects markedly enhanced diversity-dependent overyielding, primarily due to complementary effects. Selection effects played far less of a role. Our work suggests that PSF contributes to diversity-dependent overyielding in grasslands via non-additive effects of microbiomes within different soil aggregates. The implication of our work is that assessing the effectiveness of sustainable grassland restoration and management on soil properties requires inspection of soil aggregate size-specific microbiomes, as these are relevant determinants of the feedback interactions between soil and plant performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115919
Pages (from-to)115919
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Complementary effect
  • Diversity-productivity relationship
  • Livestock grazing
  • Plant-soil feedback
  • Semi-arid grasslands
  • Soil aggregates
  • Grassland
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Biomass
  • Plants
  • Microbiota
  • Ecosystem
  • Soil


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