The idea that plant communities with high species diversity are more stable, productive, and resistant to invasion at small spatial scales has become an important ecological paradigm. Recently, the role of soil biota has emerged as a major driver of this relationship between plant species diversity and ecosystem function. In greenhouse experiments, we found that soil collected from experimentally constructed species-rich plant assemblages (that originally contained between 10 and 16 species) promoted the growth of 4 native target plant species more than soil from species-poor communities (that originally contained between 2 and 5 species). Sterilization of soils from species-poor communities improved the growth of these target species more than sterilization of soils from species-rich plant communities, indicative that inhibitory soil biota had greater negative impacts on plant growth in low versus high diversity soils. These results suggest that strong soil biota effects in soils do not simply accrue in experimental monocultures, but can occur in low diversity assemblages that are more realistic of what occurs in nature. Our findings suggest a mechanistic explanation for the diversity–productivity relationship, and further support the importance of inhibitory soil biota as significant contributors to spatial and temporal patterns of abundance in natural plant communities through negative plant−soil feedback.
- Soil biota
- Species richness