1.Plant-soil feedback (PSF) has been identified as a key driver of local plant diversity and evenness in competitive communities. However, while it has been shown that spatial PSF heterogeneity can alter plant performance and competitive interactions, there is no proof of principle that spatial PSF heterogeneity enhances community diversity.
2.Using a grassland model system we separated two aspects of spatial heterogeneity: the number of species conditioning the soil and spatial distribution of the PSFs.
3.Our data show that PSFs promoted a higher plant evenness when the soil was conditioned by multiple species (mixed-conditioned), then when the soil was conditioned by a single species (mono-conditioned). On mono-conditioned soils, heterospecifics typically outperformed the focal species. In addition, there was a trend for increasing community evenness from uniform, via fine-grained to coarse-grained mixed-conditioned soils, but this was not significant.
4.On mixed-conditioned soils, performance of all competing species was intermediate to the best and the worst mono-conditioned soils, leading to higher community evenness.
5.Our data demonstrate that PSFs play a role in promoting plant evenness. Across mono-conditioned soils, PSF led to altered competitive hierarchies. However, on soils conditioned by multiple species, competitive ability among species was more similar and this led to higher plant evenness. The spatial distribution of the heterogeneity, on the other hand, did not significantly affect plant evenness. Our data therefore show that community evenness was more strongly related to the number of plant species that conditioned the soil than the spatial distribution of the PSF heterogeneity. Future studies need to investigate the importance of PSFs in the field across plant life-stages and multiple generations.