Community Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 23–28 | Cite as

Soil history affects plant growth and competitive ability in herbaceous species

  • G. Bonanomi
  • S. MazzoleniEmail author


Belowground soil characteristics are recognised as possible key factors in affecting plant species coexistence and community organisation. In this study, soil heterogeneity was generated by the growth of different herbaceous plants under controlled conditions, and thus related to growth and competitive ability of three naturally co-occurring species (Holcus lanatus, Inula viscosa and Pulicaria dysenterica). Soil changes induced by all species caused significant specific effects on the performance of these species and on their competitive hierarchies. Holcus lanatus was the strongest competitor on disturbed soil, but showed a dramatic negative feedback in monoculture. The experimental results are relevant for understanding community ecology and suggest that the investigation of species coexistence should take into account the possible role of plant-soil feedback processes.


Plant-soil negative feedback RCI index Soil history Species interaction 



Relative Competition Index


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Armstrong, J. and W. Armstrong. 2001. An overview of the effects of phytotoxins on Phragmites australis in relation to die-back. Aquatic Bot. 69:251–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Belsky, A.J. 1994. Influences of trees on savanna productivity: tests of shade, nutrients, and tree-grass competition. Ecology 75:922–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bever, J. 1994. Feedback between plants ant their soil communities in an old field community. Ecology 75:1965–1977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bever, J., M. Westover and J. Antonovics. 1997. Incorporating the soil community into plant population dynamics: the utility of the feedback approach. J. Ecol. 85:561–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bever, J. 2003. Soil community feedback and the coexistence of competitors: conceptual frameworks and empirical tests. New Phytol. 157:465–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blomqvist, M.M., H. Olff, MB. Blaauw, T. Bongers and H. Van der Putten. 2000. Interaction between above- and below ground biota: importance of small scale vegetation mosaic in a grassland ecosystem. Oikos 90:582–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buckland, M.S., K. Thompson, G. Hodgson and J.P. Grime. 2001. Grassland invasion: effects of manipulations of climate and management. J. Applied Ecol. 38:301–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chapin, F.S.III, L.R. Walker, C.L. Fastie and L.C. Sharman. 1994. Mechanism of primary succession following deglaciation at glacier bay, Alaska. Ecol. Monogr. 64:149–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crick, J.C. and P.J. Grime. 1987. Morphological plasticity and mineral nutrient capture in two herbaceous species of contrasted ecology. New Phytol. 107:403–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Diaz, S., J. Symstad, S. Chapin III, D. Wardle and F. Huenneke. 2003. Functional diversity revealed by removal experiments. Trends Ecol. Evol. 18:140–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Drew, M.C. 1975. Comparison of the effects of a localized supply of phosphate, nitrate, ammonium and potassium on the growth of the seminal root system, and the shoot, in barley. New Phytol. 75:479–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Florence, R.G. 1965. Decline of old-growth redwood forests in relation to some soil microbiological process. Ecology 46:52–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grace, J.B. 1995. On the measurement of plant competition intensity. Ecology 76:305–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holah, J. and M. Alexander. 1999. Soil pathogenic fungi have the potential to affect the coexistence of two tallgrass praire species. J. Ecol. 87:598–608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Klironomos, J.N. 2002. Feedback with soil biota contributes to plant rarity and invasiveness in communities. Nature 417:61–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Klironomos, J.N. 2003. Variation in plant response to native and exotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Ecology 84:2292–2301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jackson, R.B. and M. Caldwell. 1993. Geostatistical patterns of soil heterogeneity around individual perennials plants. J. Ecol. 81:683–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. James, S.E., M. Pärtel, S.D. Wilson and D.U. Peltzer. 2003. Temporal heterogeneity of soil moisture in grassland and forest. J. Ecol. 91:234–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Levine, J.M. 1999. Indirect facilitation: evidence and predictions from a riparian community. Ecology 80:1762–1769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Little, R. and A.M. Maun. 1996. The “Ammophila problem” revisited: a role for mycorrhizal fungi. J. Ecol. 84:1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McNaughton, S.J. 1968. Autotoxic feedback in regulation of Typha population. Ecology 49:367–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miller, T.E. 1994. Direct and indirect interactions in a early old-field plant community. Am. Nat. 143:1007–1025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Neumann, G and E. Martinoia. 2002. Cluster roots: an underground adaptation for survival in extreme environments. Trends Plant Sci. 7:162–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Novoplansky, A. and D.E. Goldberg. 2001. Effect of water pulsing on individual performances and competitive hierarchies in plants. J Veg.Sci. 12:199–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Olff, H., B. Moorens, R.G. de Goede, W.H. Van der Putten and J. Gleichman. 2000. Small-scale shifting mosaic of two dominat grassland species: the possible role of soil borne pathogens. Oecologia 125:45–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Packer, A. and K. Clay. 2000. Soil pathogens and spatial patterns of seedling mortality in a temperate tree. Nature 404:278–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Poot, P. and H. Lambers. 2003. Are trade-off in allocation pattern and root morphology related to species abundance? A congeneric comparison between rare and common species in the south-western Australian flora. J. Ecol. 91:58–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rice, E. L. 1984. Allelopathy. 2nd edition. Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  29. Robinson, D. 1994. The responses of plants to non-uniform supplies of nutrients. New Phytol. 127:635–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Singh, H.P., R.D. Batish and K.R. Kohli. 1999. Autotoxicity: concept, organisms and ecological significance. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 18:757–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Streng, R.D., J.S. Glitzenstein and P.A. Harcombe. 1989. Woody seedling dynamics in a east Texas floodplain in forest. Ecol. Monogr. 59:177–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tilman, D. 1988. Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.Google Scholar
  33. Van der Maarel, E. 1996. Pattern and process in the plant community: fifty years after A. S. Watt. J. Veg Sci. 7:19–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Van der Putten, W.H., C. Van Dijk and S.R. Troelstra. 1988. Biotic soil factors affecting the growth and development of Ammophila arenaria. Oecologia 76:313–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Van der Putten, W.H., C. Van Dijk and B. Peters. 1993. Plant-specific soil-borne diseases contribute to succession in foredune vegetation. Nature 362:53–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Van der Putten, W.H. and B. Peters. 1997. How soil-borne pathogens may affect plant competition. Ecology 78:1785–1795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vinton, A.M., and I.C. Burke. 1995. Interaction between individual plant species and soil nutrient status in shortgrass steppe. Ecology 76:1116–1133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wedin, D. and D. Tilman. 1993. Competition among grasses along a nitrogen gradient: initial conditions and mechanisms of competition. Ecol. Monogr. 63:199–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wills, C, R. Condit, R.B. Foster and S.P. Hubbell. 1997. Strong density-related and diversity-related effects help to maintain tree species diversity in a neotropical forest. PNAS USA 94:1252–1257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Zucconi, F. 1994. Root dynamics in natural and agricultural plants and the making of domestication. Proc. of the International workshop: Dynamics of Roots and Nitrogen in Cropping System of the Semi-arid Tropics. Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India, 21–25 November 1994.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 2005

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Arboricoltura, Botanica e Patologia VegetaleUniversity of Naples Federico IIItaly

Personalised recommendations