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Ecology. 2011 Feb;92(2):296-303.

Soil microbes drive the classic plant diversity-productivity pattern.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201 USA. Schnitzer@uwm.edu

Abstract

Ecosystem productivity commonly increases asymptotically with plant species diversity, and determining the mechanisms responsible for this well-known pattern is essential to predict potential changes in ecosystem productivity with ongoing species loss. Previous studies attributed the asymptotic diversity-productivity pattern to plant competition and differential resource use (e.g., niche complementarity). Using an analytical model and a series of experiments, we demonstrate theoretically and empirically that host-specific soil microbes can be major determinants of the diversity-productivity relationship in grasslands. In the presence of soil microbes, plant disease decreased with increasing diversity, and productivity increased nearly 500%, primarily because of the strong effect of density-dependent disease on productivity at low diversity. Correspondingly, disease was higher in plants grown in conspecific-trained soils than heterospecific-trained soils (demonstrating host-specificity), and productivity increased and host-specific disease decreased with increasing community diversity, suggesting that disease was the primary cause of reduced productivity in species-poor treatments. In sterilized, microbe-free soils, the increase in productivity with increasing plant species number was markedly lower than the increase measured in the presence of soil microbes, suggesting that niche complementarity was a weaker determinant of the diversity-productivity relationship. Our results demonstrate that soil microbes play an integral role as determinants of the diversity-productivity relationship.

PMID:
21618909
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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