Spatial heterogeneity of plant-soil feedback affects root interactions and interspecific competition

Marloes Hendriks, Janneke M. Ravenek, Annemiek E. Smit-Tiekstra, Jan Willem van der Paauw, Hannie de Caluwe, Wim H. van der Putten, Hans de Kroon, Liesje Mommer

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Plant-soil feedback is receiving increasing interest as a factor influencing plant competition and species coexistence in grasslands. However, we do not know how spatial distribution of plant-soil feedback affects plant below-ground interactions. We investigated the way in which spatial heterogeneity of soil biota affects competitive interactions in grassland plant species. We performed a pairwise competition experiment combined with heterogeneous distribution of soil biota using four grassland plant species and their soil biota. Patches were applied as quadrants of own' and foreign' soils from all plant species in all pairwise combinations. To evaluate interspecific root responses, species-specific root biomass was quantified using real-time PCR. All plant species suffered negative soil feedback, but strength was species-specific, reflected by a decrease in root growth in own compared with foreign soil. Reduction in root growth in own patches by the superior plant competitor provided opportunities for inferior competitors to increase root biomass in these patches. These patterns did not cascade into above-ground effects during our experiment. We show that root distributions can be determined by spatial heterogeneity of soil biota, affecting plant below-ground competitive interactions. Thus, spatial heterogeneity of soil biota may contribute to plant species coexistence in species-rich grasslands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830-840
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • coexistence
  • grasslands
  • plant-soil feedback
  • root competition
  • soil biota
  • soil heterogeneity
  • national


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