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

Safaa Wasof, An De Schrijver, Stephanie Schelfhout, Michael P. Perring, Elyn Remy, Jan Mertens, Eduardo de la Pena, Nancy De Sutter, Nicole Viaene, Kris Verheyen

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Background and aimsImproving 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.MethodsWe 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.ResultsPlant 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.ConclusionsLarge 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-304
Number of pages16
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

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