Plant and Soil

, Volume 434, Issue 1–2, pp 289–304 | Cite as

Linkages between aboveground and belowground community compositions in grasslands along a historical land-use intensity gradient

  • Safaa WasofEmail author
  • An De Schrijver
  • Stephanie Schelfhout
  • Michael P. Perring
  • Elyn Remy
  • Jan Mertens
  • Eduardo de la Peña
  • Nancy De Sutter
  • Nicole Viaene
  • Kris Verheyen
Regular Article


Background and aims

Improving our understanding of ecosystem responses to land-use intensification requires explicit consideration of linkages between aboveground and belowground communities. Here, we explore linkages between plant, soil microbial and nematode community compositions along a historical land-use intensity (hLUI) gradient.


We used co-inertia analysis to investigate linkages between each paired community composition in 33 grasslands with similar hydrology and soil texture but contrasting hLUI and associated soil chemical properties (e.g. pH, phosphorus). We estimated the percentage cover of plant species, identified nematodes to genus level, and analysed the microbial community using phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiling.


Plant and nematode communities were more strongly linked as compared to either community’s links with microbes, although all pairwise comparisons were significant. Linkage strength did not depend on the degree of hLUI. We found significant variations in plant and nematode, but not in microbial, community compositions along the hLUI gradient.


Large changes in soil fertility associated with hLUI have led to shifts in vegetation community composition matched by changes in the composition of different soil communities, or vice versa. The nematode community seems to be more responsive to vegetation composition than other trophic groups. Additional research in an experimental setting will elucidate the mechanisms underpinning the observed relationships.


Co-inertia Microbes Nematodes pH Phosphorus Species-rich grasslands 



Co-inertia analysis


Historical land-use intensity


Phospholipid fatty acid


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi


Hierarchical clustering on principal components


Principal component analysis



SW works as postdoctoral researcher on a project funded by the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (FWO, n° G050215 N). The authors thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. We would like to thank Stéphane Dray, Noriko A. Cassman and Cajo Ter Braak for their adviceconcerning the use of the co-inertia analysis. We furthermore thank nature conservators Kris Van der Steen, Marc Smets, Christine Verscheure and Eckhart Kuijken for the permission to do research in their nature reserves, their help in selecting the study parcels and providing all necessary information on the history and management of the plots. We furthermore thank Lander Baeten for his comments on the first version of the study, Annelies Haegeman for her assistance in interpreting PLFA analyses and Luc Willems and Greet De bruyn for the chemical analyses of the soil samples.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Safaa Wasof
    • 1
    Email author
  • An De Schrijver
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephanie Schelfhout
    • 1
  • Michael P. Perring
    • 1
    • 3
  • Elyn Remy
    • 1
  • Jan Mertens
    • 1
  • Eduardo de la Peña
    • 4
  • Nancy De Sutter
    • 5
  • Nicole Viaene
    • 4
    • 5
  • Kris Verheyen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environment, Forest & Nature Lab (ForNaLab)Ghent UniversityMelle-GontrodeBelgium
  2. 2.Faculty of Science and TechnologyUniversity College GhentMelleBelgium
  3. 3.Ecosystem Restoration and Intervention Ecology (ERIE) Research Group, School of Biological SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Biology, Faculty of SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  5. 5.Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Plant Sciences UnitMerelbekeBelgium

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