Marschner Review

Plant and Soil

, Volume 351, Issue 1, pp 1-22

First online:

Aboveground–belowground interactions as a source of complementarity effects in biodiversity experiments

  • Nico EisenhauerAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota Email author 

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The positive relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) is due mainly to complementarity between species. Most BEF studies primarily focused on plant interactions; however, plants are embedded in a dense network of multitrophic interactions above and below the ground, which are likely to play a crucial role in BEF relationships.


In the present review I point out the relevance of aboveground–belowground interactions as a source of complementarity effects in grassland biodiversity experiments. A review of the current knowledge on the role of decomposers, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, rhizobia, plant growth promoting rhizobacteria, invertebrate ecosystem engineers, herbivores, pathogens and predators in biodiversity experiments, indicates that soil biota can drive both positive and negative complementarity between plant species via a multitude of mechanisms.


I pose four main processes by which aboveground–belowground interactions determine positive complementarity effects: enlarging biotope space, mediating legume effects, increasing plant community resistance, and maintaining plant diversity. By contrast, soil biota may also reinforce negative complementarity effects by competing with plants for nutrients or by exerting herbivore or pathogen pressure, thereby reducing community productivity. Thus, considering aboveground–belowground interactions as well as interactions between antagonistic and mutualistic consumers may improve the mechanistic understanding of complementarity effects in plant diversity–ecosystem functioning experiments and should inspire future research.


Biodiversity–ecosystem functioning Decomposers Plant diversity–productivity relationship Soil feedback Soil mutualists Soil pathogens