, Volume 157, Issue 4, pp 661–673 | Cite as

Nitrogen enrichment modifies plant community structure via changes to plant–soil feedback

  • P. Manning
  • S. A. Morrison
  • M. Bonkowski
  • R. D. Bardgett
Community Ecology - Original Paper


We tested the hypothesis that N enrichment modifies plant–soil feedback relationships, resulting in changes to plant community composition. This was done in a two-phase glasshouse experiment. In the first phase, we grew eight annual plant species in monoculture at two levels of N addition. Plants were harvested at senescence and the effect of each species on a range of soil properties was measured. In the second phase, the eight plant species were grown in multi-species mixtures in the eight soils conditioned by the species in the first phase, at both levels of N addition. At senescence, species performance was measured as aboveground biomass. We found that in the first phase, plant species identity strongly influenced several soil properties, including microbial and protist biomass, soil moisture content and the availability of several soil nutrients. Species effects on the soil were mostly independent of N addition and several were strongly correlated with plant biomass. In the second phase, both the performance of individual species and overall community structure were influenced by the interacting effects of the species identity of the previous soil occupant and the rate of N addition. This indicates that N enrichment modified plant–soil feedback. The performance of two species correlated with differences in soil N availability that were generated by the species formerly occupying the soil. However, negative feedback (poorer performance on the soil of conspecifics relative to that of heterospecifics) was only observed for one species. In conclusion, we provide evidence that N enrichment modifies plant–soil feedback relationships and that these modifications may affect plant community composition. Field testing and further investigations into which mechanisms dominate feedback are required before we fully understand how and when feedback processes determine plant community responses to N enrichment.


Nitrogen deposition Decomposition Soil community Nutrient availability Plant competition 



This work was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council via the CPB. We thank the Ecotron support staff and Dina Koulama for their assistance. The experiments described in this paper complied with the laws of the United Kingdom at the time the experiments were performed.

Supplementary material

442_2008_1104_MOESM_ESM.doc (43 kb)
Home versus away comparison of species performance in the response generation. We compared the seed mass produced by each species when growing on soil preconditioned to the mean of that produced on soil preconditioned by the other seven species (DOC 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Manning
    • 1
  • S. A. Morrison
    • 2
  • M. Bonkowski
    • 3
  • R. D. Bardgett
    • 4
  1. 1.Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology, Department of Biological SciencesImperial College LondonAscotUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Life SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  3. 3.Institute of ZoologyUniversity of CologneKölnGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Environmental and Natural Sciences, Soil and Ecosystem Ecology LaboratoryLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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