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Reduced water-availability lowers the strength of negative plant–soil feedbacks of two Asclepias species

Abstract

Negative plant–soil feedbacks can serve as a mechanism for plant species coexistence. Despite predicted changes in precipitation patterns due to climate change, little is known as to how the strength and direction of feedbacks change under differing soil moisture regimes. We performed a fully reciprocal greenhouse experiment where seedlings of two co-occurring Asclepias spp. (milkweed) were grown either with their own or the other species’ microbial communities under high or low watering treatments. We found that seedlings of each species were smaller when exposed to conspecific relative to heterospecific soil biota, perhaps due to a build-up of specific soil pathogens. Importantly, this negative feedback diminished under reduced water-availability, and also in the absence of live soil organisms. Our findings suggest that the ability for plants to coexist may be fundamentally altered in areas that face increased drought.

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Adapted from  Kartesz (2015)

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Dr. Scott Mangan, Mike Dyer and the greenhouse staff at Washington University for their guidance and assistance with this project. We would like to thank Amy Patterson for assisting in the harvesting of these plants. This project was supported by undergraduate research awards provided to A. Snyder from Washington University in St. Louis.

Funding

This study was funded by Washington University in St. Louis.

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Contributions

AES and ANHT conceived and designed the experiment. AES and ANHT performed the experiment. AES analyzed the data. AES and ANHT wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amelia E. Snyder.

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The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Communicated by Sarah M. Emery.

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Snyder, A.E., Harmon-Threatt, A.N. Reduced water-availability lowers the strength of negative plant–soil feedbacks of two Asclepias species. Oecologia 190, 425–432 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04419-8

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Keywords

  • Drought
  • Stress
  • Belowground interactions
  • Plant–microbial interactions
  • Plant–soil feedback