, Volume 181, Issue 2, pp 559–569 | Cite as

Plant-soil feedbacks: a comparative study on the relative importance of soil feedbacks in the greenhouse versus the field

  • Johannes HeinzeEmail author
  • M. Sitte
  • A. Schindhelm
  • J. Wright
  • J. Joshi
Community ecology – Original research


Interactions between plants and soil microorganisms influence individual plant performance and thus plant-community composition. Most studies on such plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) have been performed under controlled greenhouse conditions, whereas no study has directly compared PSFs under greenhouse and natural field conditions. We grew three grass species that differ in local abundance in grassland communities simultaneously in the greenhouse and field on field-collected soils either previously conditioned by these species or by the general grassland community. As soils in grasslands are typically conditioned by mixes of species through the patchy and heterogeneous plant species’ distributions, we additionally compared the effects of species-specific versus non-specific species conditioning on PSFs in natural and greenhouse conditions. In almost all comparisons PSFs differed between the greenhouse and field. In the greenhouse, plant growth in species-specific and non-specific soils resulted in similar effects with neutral PSFs for the most abundant species and positive PSFs for the less abundant species. In contrast, in the field all grass species tested performed best in non-specific plots, whereas species-specific PSFs were neutral for the most abundant and varied for the less abundant species. This indicates a general beneficial effect of plant diversity on PSFs in the field. Controlled greenhouse conditions might provide valuable insights on the nominal effects of soils on plants. However, the PSFs observed in greenhouse conditions may not be the determining drivers in natural plant communities where their effects may be overwhelmed by the diversity of abiotic and biotic above- and belowground interactions in the field.


Grassland Plant performance Experimental environment Community assembly Plant diversity 



We thank Ewald Weber for helpful comments on the manuscript, Frank Warschau for help in the field, Gabriele Gehrmann for help with the soil analyses and the Botanical Garden Potsdam for their cooperation.

Author contribution statement

J. H. designed the study. J. H., M. S. and A. S. performed the experiments. J. H., J. W., and J. J. analyzed the data. J. H., J. W. and J. J. wrote the first draft of the manuscript; all authors contributed substantially to the revisions.

Supplementary material

442_2016_3591_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (955 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 954 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johannes Heinze
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • M. Sitte
    • 1
  • A. Schindhelm
    • 1
    • 3
  • J. Wright
    • 4
  • J. Joshi
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Biochemistry and Biology, Biodiversity Research/BotanyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB)BerlinGermany
  3. 3.Institute of BiologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Biology DepartmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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