Negative plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) are thought to promote species coexistence, but most evidence is derived from theoretical models and data from plant monoculture experiments.
We grew Anthoxanthum odoratum and Centaurea jacea in field plots in monocultures and in mixtures with three ratios (3:1, 2:2 and 1:3) for three years. We then tested in a greenhouse experiment the performance of A. odoratum and C. jacea in pots planted with monocultures and 1:1 mixtures and filled with live and sterile soils collected from the field plots.
In the greenhouse experiment, C. jacea produced less aboveground biomass in soil conditioned by C. jacea monocultures than in soil conditioned by A. odoratum monocultures, while the aboveground biomass of A. odoratum in general did not differ between the two monospecific soils. The negative PSF effect was greater in the 1:1 plant mixture than in plant monocultures for A. odoratum but did not differ for C. jacea. In the greenhouse experiment, the performance of C. jacea relative to A. odoratum in the 1:1 plant mixture was negatively correlated to the abundance of C. jacea in the field plot where the soil was collected from. This relationship was significant both in live and sterile soils. However, there was no relationship between the performance of A. odoratum relative to C. jacea in the 1:1 plant mixture in the greenhouse experiment and the abundance of A. odoratum in the field plots.
The response of a plant to PSF depends on whether the focal species grows in monocultures or in mixtures and on the identity of the species. Interspecific competition can exacerbate the negative plant-soil feedbacks compared to intraspecific competition when a plant competes with a stronger interspecific competitor. Moreover, the abundance of a species in mixed plant communities, via plant-soil feedback, negatively influences the relative competitiveness of that species when it grows later in interspecific competition, but this effect varies between species. This phenomenon may contribute to the coexistence of competing plants under natural conditions through preventing the dominance of a particular plant species.
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Data from: Density-dependency and plant-soil feedback: former plant abundance influences competitive interactions between two grassland plant species through plant-soil feedbacks
Xue, W. (Maker), Bezemer, T. M. (Maker) & Berendse, F. (Maker), Marine Data Archive, 06 aug 2018