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Ecol Lett. 2011 Jan;14(1):36-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01547.x. Epub 2010 Nov 14.

Soil fungal pathogens and the relationship between plant diversity and productivity.

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Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA.


One robust result from many small-scale experiments has been that plant community productivity often increases with increasing plant diversity. Most frequently, resource-based or competitive interactions are thought to drive this positive diversity-productivity relationship. Here, we ask whether suppression of plant productivity by soil fungal pathogens might also drive a positive diversity-productivity relationship. We created plant assemblages that varied in diversity and crossed this with a ± soil fungicide treatment. In control (non-fungicide treated) assemblages there was a strong positive relationship between plant diversity and above-ground plant biomass. However, in fungicide-treated assemblages this relationship disappeared. This occurred because fungicide increased plant production by an average of 141% at the lower ends of diversity but boosted production by an average of only 33% at the higher ends of diversity, essentially flattening the diversity-productivity curve. These results suggest that soil pathogens might be a heretofore unappreciated driver of diversity-productivity relationships.

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