Under natural conditions, aboveground herbivory and plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) are omnipresent interactions strongly affecting individual plant performance. While recent research revealed that aboveground insect herbivory generally impacts the outcome of PSFs, no study tested to what extent the intensity of herbivory affects the outcome. This, however, is essential to estimate the contribution of PSFs to plant performance under natural conditions in the field. Here, we tested PSF effects both with and without exposure to aboveground herbivory for four common grass species in nine grasslands that formed a gradient of aboveground invertebrate herbivory. Without aboveground herbivores, PSFs for each of the four grass species were similar in each of the nine grasslands—both in direction and in magnitude. In the presence of herbivores, however, the PSFs differed from those measured under herbivory exclusion, and depended on the intensity of herbivory. At low levels of herbivory, PSFs were similar in the presence and absence of herbivores, but differed at high herbivory levels. While PSFs without herbivores remained similar along the gradient of herbivory intensity, increasing herbivory intensity mostly resulted in neutral PSFs in the presence of herbivores. This suggests that the relative importance of PSFs for plant-species performance in grassland communities decreases with increasing intensity of herbivory. Hence, PSFs might be more important for plant performance in ecosystems with low herbivore pressure than in ecosystems with large impacts of insect herbivores.
Heinze, J., Simons, N. K., Seibold, S., Wacker, A., Weithoff, G., Gossner, M. M., Prati, D., Bezemer, T. M., & Joshi, J. (2019). The relative importance of plant-soil feedbacks for plant-species performance increases with decreasing intensity of herbivory. Oecologia, 190, 651-664. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04442-9)