Plant-Soil Feedbacks: The Benefit of Field-Based Community Level Study in Uncovering their Role in Restoration

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Sarah Gaffney, Carolyn Malmstrom, Valerie Eviner

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Plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) can be a factor in plant invasions and may play a role in native restoration failure. PSFs occur when a plant changes soil properties that then directly influence plant growth, influencing community assemblage. Shortterm greenhouse studies show that invasive species often develops PSFs that negatively affect natives. However, the significance of PSFs in more realistic long-term field settings remains to be seen. In California grasslands, Eurasian grasses are known to alter nitrogen cycling, deep soil organic matter, and microbial community composition, which negatively impact native grasses in greenhouse experiments. To uncover whether these changes can cause restoration failure, we investigated the importance of PSFs on a community level in field conditions. From a larger grassland experiment in Davis, CA, 90-cm deep soil cores were taken from 16 plots dominated by either exotic or native grasses for the last 10 years to compare soil properties. Denuded plots were divided into subplots, seeded with either native mix, exotic mix, or native+exotic mix. Plant performance variables encompassing all life stages were measured for two growing seasons. Net mineralization and nitrification rates in the top 15-cm of soil were lower in exotic-conditioned soil; with no other differences in soil properties (awaiting microbial community results). Native grasses performed better in exotic-conditioned soil than their home soil in height and community-level cover. These results suggest that invasive-driven PSFs observed in the greenhouse are weakened in the field and that pathogen accumulation may drive native performance. Future studies should also include community level analysis.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program