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Research article2003Peer reviewed

The response of a three trophic level soil food web to the identity and diversity of plant species and functional groups

Wardle DA, Yeates GW, Williamson W, Bonner KI


Despite considerable recent interest in how biodiversity may influence ecosystem properties, the issue of how plant diversity and composition may affect multiple trophic levels in soil food webs remains essentially unexplored. We conducted a glasshouse experiment in which three plant species of each of three functional groups (grasses, N-fixing legumes and forbs) were grown in monoculture and in mixtures of three species (with the three species being in the same or different functional groups) and all nine species. Plant species identity had important effects on the biomasses or population densities of belowground primary consumers (microbial biomass, herbivorous nematodes) and two groups of secondary consumers (microbe-feeding nematodes and enchytraeids); the third consumer trophic level (predatory nematodes) was marginally not significantly affected at P = 0.05. Plant species also influenced the relative importance of the bacterial-based and fungal-based energy channels for both the primary and secondary consumer trophic levels. Within-group diversity of only the soil microflora and herbivorous nematodes (both representing the basal consumer trophic level) were affected by plant species identity. However, community composition within all trophic groupings considered (herbivorous nematodes, microbes, microbe-feeding nematodes, predatory nematodes) was strongly influenced by what plant species were present. Despite the strong responses of the soil biota to plant species identity, there were few effects of plant species or functional group richness on any of the belowground response variables measured. Further, net primary productivity (NPP) was unaffected by plant diversity. Since some belowground response variables were correlated with NPP across treatments, it is suggested that belowground responses to plant diversity might become more apparent in situations when NIPP itself responds to plant diversity. Our results point to plant species identity as having important multitrophic effects on soil food webs, both at the whole trophic group and within-group levels of resolution, and suggest that differences in plant traits across species may be important in driving the decomposer subsystem

Published in

2003, Volume: 102, number: 1, pages: 45-56

      SLU Authors

    • Wardle, David

      • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication identifier


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