Plant and Soil

, Volume 430, Issue 1–2, pp 277–289 | Cite as

Soil microbes regulate forest succession in a subtropical ecosystem in China: evidence from a mesocosm experiment

  • Huixuan LiaoEmail author
  • Fangfang Huang
  • Daijiang Li
  • Luyao Kang
  • Baoming Chen
  • Ting Zhou
  • Shaolin PengEmail author
Regular Article



Ecological forest succession can be influenced by plant-plant interactions that exert contrasting effects on early- and late-successional species. In this study, we explored the role of indirect plant-plant interactions and the underlying microbial mechanisms in forest succession.


In a mesocosm experiment, we used Schima superba, a widespread mid-successional species in subtropical China, as a model species to explore how inoculating the rhizosphere soil of Schima affected the performances of two early-successional species (Pinus massoniana and Rhodomyrtus tomentosa) and two late-successional species (Cryptocarya chinensis and Machilus chinensis). All direct and indirect correlations between plant performance and soil microbial composition were examined using partial least square path models.


Schima inoculum inhibited the growth of the early-successional species but had little effect on the growth of the late-successional species. Inoculation reduced non-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (non-AMF) colonization in both species groups but increased arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) colonization in the late-successional species. The percentage of root lesions in the early-successional species increased with inoculation, while that in the late-successional species decreased. Plant nutrient acquisition was not responsive to inoculation. According to the path models, soil microbes explained 51% of the growth variances in the early-successional species but barely explained any growth variances in the late species.


Schima may increase the competitive advantage of the late-successional species over early-successional species by inhibiting the mutualistic association between non-AMF and the latter, which in turn may facilitate forest succession.


Forest succession Connell-Slatyer model Indirect plant-plant interaction Mycorrhiza Plant-microbe interaction 



We appreciate the help from Yaru Yuan, Meiyu Lu, Peng Zhou, Shuangbo Chen, Xiangping Tan, Chuanyin Xiang and Dingsheng Mo during soil sampling, experimental set-up and PLFA experiment. We thank Wenbo Luo and three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript.


This project was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 31700450, NSFC 31670479), Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (China) (2017A03031 0386) and Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (China) (17lgpy104).

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, School of Life SciencesSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Silviculture, Protection and UtilizationGuangdong Academy of ForestryGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Department of Wildlife Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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