Plant and Soil

, Volume 379, Issue 1–2, pp 161–175 | Cite as

Climatic extremes lead to species-specific legume facilitation in an experimental temperate grassland

  • Mohammed Abu Sayed Arfin KhanEmail author
  • Kerstin Grant
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
  • Juergen Kreyling
  • Anke Jentsch
Regular Article



Nitrogen-fixing legumes are key species in grassland ecosystems, as their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen can facilitate neighboring plants. However, little is known about the fate of this legume effect in the face of extreme weather events, which are increasingly expected to occur.


Here, we examined experimentally how the presence of a legume modifies above-ground net primary production (ANPP) and nitrogen supply of neighboring non-legumes under annually recurrent pulsed drought and heavy rainfall events by comparing responses of three key species in European grassland versus without legume presence over 4 years.


Legume presence facilitated community productivity of neighboring non-legumes under ambient weather conditions and also under experimental heavy rainfall. However, no facilitation of community productivity by the legume was found under experimental drought. Productivity of the three target species responded species-specifically to legume presence under different weather conditions: Holcus lanatus was facilitated only under control conditions, Plantago lanceolata was facilitated only under heavy rainfall, and Arrhenatherum elatius was facilitated irrespective of climate manipulations. The legume effects on δ 15N, leaf N concentration, and N uptake were also species-specific, yet irrespective of the climate manipulations. The data suggest that the missing legume effect on community productivity under the pulsed drought was rather caused by reduced N-uptake of the target species than by reduced N-fixation by the legume.


In contrast to heavy rain, the presence of a legume could not effectively buffer community ANPP against the negative effects of extreme drought events in an experimental temperate grassland. Facilitation also depends on the key species that are dominating a grassland community.


15N natural abundance Biomass production Mesic Plant-plant interactions Precipitation Species-specific traits Water stress 



Above-ground net primary production


Arrhenatherum elatius (L.) P. Beauv. ex J. Presl & C. Presl


Geranium pratense L.


Holcus lanatus L.




Lotus corniculatus L.

Legume neighbors

A single mixture of three target non-legumes grown in the presence of a legume forb (L. corniculatus)

Non-legume neighbors

A single mixture of three target non-legumes grown in the presence of a non-legume forb (G. pratense)




Plantago lanceolata L.


Climate manipulations



Research funding was provided by the German Science Foundation (DFG), by the “Bavarian Climate Programme 2020” within the framework of the research cooperation FORKAST, and research stay of first author was supported by German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We thank the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research for providing lab space for isotope measurements and the German Weather Service for long-term precipitation data, and the Ecological Botanical Garden of University of Bayreuth and the Bayreuth Center for Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER) for providing continuous support. We are also grateful to Andrey Malyshev for language correction and to anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on the initial version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mohammed Abu Sayed Arfin Khan
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Kerstin Grant
    • 1
  • Carl Beierkuhnlein
    • 2
  • Juergen Kreyling
    • 2
  • Anke Jentsch
    • 1
  1. 1.Disturbance Ecology, BayCEERUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany
  2. 2.Biogeography, BayCEERUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany
  3. 3.Department of Forestry and Environmental ScienceShahjalal University of Science and TechnologySylhetBangladesh

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