Predicting plant-soil feedbacks from plant traits

Predicting plant-soil feedbacks from plant traits
Credit: Wout Berger

In nature, plants cannot grow without soil biota like fungi and bacteria. Successful plants are able to harness positive, growth-promoting soil organisms, while avoiding the negative effects of others. Which plant traits can predict these interactions, or the success of a plant? Researchers and plant breeders like to know. In a paper in the Journal of Ecology of August 24 a team from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Wageningen University and the Universität Leipzig tested exactly this and found thick roots to be a leading trait.

To test the subterranean interactions of plant roots with their soil organisms, also named 'plant-soil feedback', the research team tested the responses of 48 different grassland species to their own soil biota and to control soil. The plant selection comprised grasses, legumes, tall and short herbs. In addition, the authors determined a number of aboveground and belowground plant traits, such as the thickness of roots, and related these traits to plant-soil feedback.

Thick roots help

The international research group found that overall the plant species grew less in soil with their own soil biota. However, when analysed further, it appeared that grasses and small herbs suffered, whereas tall herbs benefitted from growing with their own soil biota. Interestingly, the thinner the of a species the more the plants suffered from negative soil biota. The researchers revealed that it was not root thickness per se explaining the net outcome of plant-soil feedback interactions, but rather the combination of thickness and root colonisation by . These are fungi that help in taking up nutrients and water, while protecting them against pathogens. Plant species with more mycorrhizal fungi in their roots also had more benefits from soil biota in general.

Predicting benefits

With this knowledge on root thickness and mycorrhizal colonisation researchers and crop breeders can predict which may benefit, and which may suffer from soil biota. This will be useful input for future research. For example, to understand how plant diversity loss influences composition and productivity of natural vegetation.

More information: Roeland Cortois et al. Plant-soil feedbacks: role of plant functional group and plant traits, Journal of Ecology (2016). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12643

Journal information: Journal of Ecology

Citation: Predicting plant-soil feedbacks from plant traits (2016, August 26) retrieved 29 September 2023 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Mix up plant species to keep soil healthy


Feedback to editors