, Volume 179, Issue 1, pp 249–259 | Cite as

Soil biota effects on local abundances of three grass species along a land-use gradient

  • J. Heinze
  • T. Werner
  • E. Weber
  • M. C. Rillig
  • J. Joshi
Community ecology - Original research


Biotic plant-soil interactions and land-use intensity are known to affect plant individual fitness as well as competitiveness and therefore plant-species abundances in communities. Therefore, a link between soil biota and land-use intensity on local abundance of plant species in grasslands can be expected. In two greenhouse experiments, we investigated the effects of soil biota from grassland sites differing in land-use intensity on three grass species that vary in local abundances along this land-use gradient. We were interested in those soil-biota effects that are associated with land-use intensity, and whether these effects act directly or indirectly. Therefore, we grew the three plant species in two separate experiments as single individuals and in mixtures and compared their performance. As single plants, all three grasses showed a similar performance with and without soil biota. In contrast, in mixtures growth of the species in response to the presence or absence of soil biota differed. This resulted in different soil-biota effects that tend to correspond with patterns of species-specific abundances in the field for two of the three species tested. Our results highlight the importance of indirect interactions between plants and soil microorganisms and suggest that combined effects of soil biota and plant–plant interactions are involved in structuring plant communities. In conclusion, our experiments suggest that soil biota may have the potential to alter effects of plant–plant interactions and therefore influence plant-species abundances and diversity in grasslands.


Biodiversity Grassland Land-use intensity Community composition Plant-soil feedback 



We thank Edith Allen and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript. We also thank Torsten Meene for help in the field, Sarah Schneider, Norbert Syska, Jörg Müller and Benjamin Radau for help in the greenhouse and Peter Manning and Joana Bergmann for helpful comments on the manuscript. Furthermore we thank the managers of the three exploratories, Swen Renner, Sonja Gockel, Kerstin Wiesner, and Martin Gorke for their work in maintaining the plot and project infrastructure; Simone Pfeiffer, Christiane Fischer and Ilka Mai for providing support through the central office, Michael Owonibi for managing the central data base, and Markus Fischer, Eduard Linsenmair, Dominik Hessenmöller, Jens Nieschulze, Daniel Prati, Ingo Schöning, François Buscot, Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Wolfgang W. Weisser and the late Elisabeth Kalko for their role in setting up the Biodiversity Exploratories project. The work has been (partly) funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft (DFG) Priority Program 1374 Infrastructure-Biodiversity-Exploratories and by the DFG-project SOILFEEDBACK (JO 777/3-1). Fieldwork permits were issued by the responsible state environmental offices of Baden-Württemberg, Thüringen, and Brandenburg (according to § 72 BbgNatSchG). The experiments comply with the current laws of the country (Germany) in which the experiments were performed.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 10912 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Heinze
    • 1
    • 3
  • T. Werner
    • 1
  • E. Weber
    • 1
  • M. C. Rillig
    • 2
    • 3
  • J. Joshi
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Biodiversity Research/Botany, Institute for Biochemistry and BiologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Dahlem Centre of Plant Science (DCPS), Institute for BiologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB)BerlinGermany

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