Mechanisms linking plant community properties to soil aggregate stability in an experimental grassland plant diversity gradient
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- Pérès, G., Cluzeau, D., Menasseri, S. et al. Plant Soil (2013) 373: 285. doi:10.1007/s11104-013-1791-0
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Background and aims
Soil aggregate stability depends on plant community properties, such as functional group composition, diversity and biomass production. However, little is known about the relative importance of these drivers and the role of soil organisms in mediating plant community effects.
We studied soil aggregate stability in an experimental grassland plant diversity gradient and considered several explanatory variables to mechanistically explain effects of plant diversity and plant functional group composition. Three soil aggregate stability measures (slaking, mechanical breakdown and microcracking) were considered in path analyses.
Soil aggregate stability increased significantly from monocultures to plant species mixtures and in the presence of grasses, while it decreased in the presence of legumes, though effects differed somewhat between soil aggregate stability measures. Using path analysis plant community effects could be explained by variations in root biomass, soil microbial biomass, soil organic carbon concentrations (all positive relationships), and earthworm biomass (negative relationship with mechanical breakdown).
The present study identified important drivers of plant community effects on soil aggregate stability. The effects of root biomass, soil microbial biomass, and soil organic carbon concentrations were largely consistent across plant diversity levels suggesting that the mechanisms identified are of general relevance.