Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 7–13 | Cite as

The impacts of individual plant species on rhizosphere microbial communities in soils of different fertility

  • Louise Innes
  • Philip J. Hobbs
  • Richard D. Bardgett
Original Paper


To investigate the effects of individual plant species on microbial community properties in soils of differing fertility, a microcosm experiment was carried out using plant species representative of the dominant flora in semi-fertile temperate grasslands of northern England. Soil microbial biomass and activity were found to be significantly greater in the more fertile, agriculturally improved soil than in the less productive unimproved meadow soil. Differences in microbial community structure were also evident between the two soils, with fungal abundance being greater in the unimproved soil type. Individual plant species effects significantly differed between the two soils. Holcus lanatus and Anthoxanthum odoratum stimulated microbial biomass in the improved soil type, but negatively affected this measure in the unimproved soil. In both soil types, herb species generally had negative effects on microbial biomass. Patterns for microbial activity were less consistent, but as with microbial biomass, A. odoratum and H. lanatus promoted respiration, whereas the herbs negatively affected this measure. All plant species grown in the improved soil increased the abundance of fatty acids synthesised by bacteria (bacterial phospholipid fatty acid analysis) relative to bare soil, but they negatively impacted on this group of fatty acids in unimproved soil. Similarly, the abundance of the fungal fatty acid 18:2ω6 was increased by all plants in the more fertile improved soil only, albeit non-significantly. Our data indicate that effects of plant species on microbial properties differ markedly in soils of differing fertility, making general predictions about how individual plants impact on soil properties difficult to make.


Grassland Plant species Soil biota Phospholipid fatty acid Microbial biomass 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Innes
    • 1
  • Philip J. Hobbs
    • 2
  • Richard D. Bardgett
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental and Natural SciencesLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  2. 2.Institute of Grassland and Environmental ResearchOkehamptonUK

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