3 years ago

Plant–soil feedback effects can be masked by aboveground herbivory under natural field conditions

Jasmin Joshi, Johannes Heinze


For plants, herbivory and interactions with their surrounding soil ecosystem are crucial factors influencing individual performance and plant-community composition. Until now, research has mostly focused on individual effects of herbivory or plant–soil feedbacks (PSFs) on plant growth and community composition, but few studies have explicitly investigated herbivory in the context of PSFs. These few studies, however, were performed under greenhouse conditions even though PSFs and herbivory may differ between greenhouse and field conditions. Therefore, we performed a field experiment in a grassland, testing the growth responses of three grass species that consistently differ in local abundance, on soils previously conditioned by these species. We tested these PSF effects for the three species both in the presence and in the absence of aboveground herbivores. Without herbivores, the two subdominant species suffered from negative PSF effects. However, in the presence of herbivores and on heterospecific soils, the same two species experienced a significant loss of shoot biomass, whereas, in contrast, enhanced root growth was observed on conspecific soils, resulting in overall neutral PSF effects. The dominant species was not damaged by herbivores and showed overall neutral PSF effects in the field with and without herbivores. Our study provides empirical evidence that negative PSF effects that exist under natural field conditions in grasslands can be overwhelmed by aboveground herbivory. Hence, potential PSF effects might not be detected in the field, because other abiotic and biotic interactions such as aboveground herbivory have stronger effects on plant performance and might therefore mask or override these PSF effects.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-017-3997-y

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-017-3997-y

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