Why are plant-soil feedbacks so unpredictable, and what to do about it?

J. De Long (Corresponding author), Fry Ellen, G.F. Veen, P. Kardol

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1.The study of feedbacks between plants and soils (plant‐soil feedbacks; PSFs) is receiving increased attention. However, PSFs have been mostly studied in isolation of abiotic and biotic drivers that could affect their strength and direction. This is problematic because it has led to limited predictive power of PSFs in ‘the real world’, leaving large knowledge gaps in our ability to predict how PSFs contribute to ecosystem processes and functions.

2.Here, we present a synthetic framework to elucidate how abiotic and biotic drivers affect PSFs. We focus on two key abiotic drivers (temperature and soil moisture) and two key biotic drivers (aboveground plant consumers and belowground top‐down control of pathogens and mutualists). We focus on these factors because they are known drivers of plants and soil organisms and the ecosystem processes they control, and hence would be expected to strongly influence PSFs.

3.Our framework describes the proposed mechanisms behind these drivers and explores their effects on PSFs. We demonstrate the impacts of these drivers using the fast‐ to slow‐growing plant economics spectrum. We use this well‐established paradigm because plants on opposite ends of this spectrum differ in their relationships with soil biota and have developed contrasting strategies to cope with abiotic and biotic environmental conditions.

4.Finally, we present suggestions for improved experimental designs and scientific inference that will capture and elucidate the influence of above‐ and belowground drivers on PSFs. By establishing the role of abiotic and biotic drivers of PSFs, we will be able to make more robust predictions of how PSFs impact on ecosystem function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-128
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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    Why are plant-soil feedbacks so unpredictable, and what to do about it?

    De Long, J., Ellen, F., Veen, G. F. & Kardol, P., 2018, (Functional Ecology).

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