Plant–soil feedbacks (PSFs) involve changes to the soil wrought by plants, which change biotic and abiotic properties of the soil, affecting plants that grow in the soil at a later time. The importance of PSFs for understanding ecosystem functioning has been the focus of much recent research, for example, in predicting the consequences for agricultural production, biodiversity conservation, and plant population dynamics. Here, we describe an experiment designed to test PSFs left by plants with contrasting traits under field conditions. This is one of the first, large-scale field experiments of its kind. We removed the existent plant community and replaced it with target plant communities that conditioned the soil. These communities consisted of contrasting proportions of grass and forb cover and consisted of either fast- or slow-growing plants, in accordance with the plant economics spectrum. We chose this well-established paradigm because plants on opposite ends of this spectrum have developed contrasting strategies to cope with environmental conditions. This means they differ in their feedbacks with soil abiotic and biotic factors. The experimental procedure was repeated in two successive years in two different subplots in order to investigate temporal effects on soils that were conditioned by the same plant community. Our treatments were successful in creating plant communities that differed in their total percentage cover based on temporal conditioning, percentage of grasses versus forbs, and percentage of fast- versus slow-growing plants. As a result, we expect that the influence of these different plant communities will lead to different PSFs. The unique and novel design of this experiment allows us to simultaneously test for the impacts of temporal effects, plant community composition and plant growth strategy on PSFs. Here, we describe the experimental design and demonstrate why this effective design is ideal to advance our understanding of PSFs in the field.
- above-belowground interactions
- ecosystem function
- functional traits
- long-term experiment
- plant-soil feedbacks