Plant–microbial interactions facilitate grassland species coexistence at the community level

TitlePlant–microbial interactions facilitate grassland species coexistence at the community level
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLi, J, Xie, S, Wilson, GT, Cobb, AB, Tang, S, Guo, L, Wang, K, Deng, B
Accession NumberKNZ002007

Interspecific competition and plant–soil feedbacks are powerful drivers of plant community structure. However, across a range of edaphic conditions the interactive effects of these drivers on complex plant communities remain unclear. For example, plant–soil feedback studies focus on soil trained by a single plant species. We developed a method to assess effects of plant–microbial interactions (PMI) on a complex plant community. We established mesocosms with 13 grassland species, grown individually or together, in overgrazed or restored soil, with or without soil microbial inoculum collected from a productive and diverse native grassland. We assessed biomass production as influenced by edaphic conditions, interspecific competition and PMI. Furthermore, we assessed potential influences of interspecific competition and edaphic conditions on strength and direction of PMI. Our results indicate PMI drives negative growth responses for graminoids while forbs experience positive growth responses. Generally, interspecific competition did not alter the magnitude or direction of PMI‐mediated growth responses. Edaphic conditions altered the influence of soil microbial communities on individual plant growth while PMI facilitated plant evenness. In plant community mesocosms, PMI‐associated benefits were observed in overgrazed soil. However, interspecific competition overwhelmed plant growth benefits associated with soil microbial communities when plant communities were grown in restored soil. In mesocosms containing dominant grass species, interspecific competition had negative effects on species coexistence, but both positive and negative PMI partially counterbalanced this influence on plant species evenness. Understanding these mechanisms may improve our capacity to manage diverse and productive grasslands by enabling prediction of plant community composition following disturbance and subsequent restoration.