Soil Biota Adversely Affect the Resistance and Recovery of Plant Communities Subjected to Drought

Chenguang Gao*, Peter M. van Bodegom, T. Martijn Bezemer, Michiel P. Veldhuis, Riccardo Mancinelli, Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Climate change predictions indicate that summer droughts will become more severe and frequent. Yet, the impact of soil communities on the response of plant communities to drought remains unclear. Here, we report the results of a novel field experiment, in which we manipulated soil communities by adding soil inocula originating from different successional stages of coastal dune ecosystems to a plant community established from seeds on bare dune sand. We tested if and how the added soil biota from later-successional ecosystems influenced the sensitivity (resistance and recovery) of plant communities to drought. In contrast to our expectations, soil biota from later-successional soil inocula did not improve the resistance and recovery of plant communities subjected to drought. Instead, inoculation with soil biota from later successional stages reduced the post-drought recovery of plant communities, suggesting that competition for limited nutrients between plant community and soil biota may exacerbate the post-drought recovery of plant communities. Moreover, soil pathogens present in later-successional soil inocula may have impeded plant growth after drought. Soil inocula had differential impacts on the drought sensitivity of specific plant functional groups and individual species. However, the sensitivity of individual species and functional groups to drought was idiosyncratic and did not explain the overall composition of the plant community. Based on the field experimental evidence, our results highlight the adverse role soil biota can play on plant community responses to environmental stresses. These outcomes indicate that impacts of soil biota on the stability of plant communities subjected to drought are highly context-dependent and suggest that in some cases the soil biota activity can even destabilize plant community biomass responses to drought.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • plant-soil interactions
  • recovery
  • resistance
  • sensitivity
  • succession
  • water availability


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