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Relationships between plant-soil feedbacks and functional traits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

N Xi, P Adler, D Chen, H Wu, Jane Catford, P van Bodegom, M Bahn, K Crawford, C Chu

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3411-3423
Number of pages13
Issue number9
Early online date12 Jul 2021
Accepted/In press8 Jun 2021
E-pub ahead of print12 Jul 2021
PublishedSep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: We thank Yang Chen and Songling Liu for their assistance in data collection and analyses, and Dr. Juliette M. G. Bloor, Dr. Marina Semchenko and Prof. James Bever for their constructive comments on the study. We also thank the handling editors Prof. David Gibson and Dr. Ana Pineda and three reviewers (Jonathan De Long and two anonymous reviewers) for their constructive comments on our initial manuscript. The study has been supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits ( https://www.try‐ ), and was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31600342 to N.X.; 31925027, 31622014 and 31570426 to C.C.). P.B.A. was supported by the United States National Science Foundation (DEB‐1655522). Publisher Copyright: © 2021 British Ecological Society

King's Authors


Plant–soil feedbacks (PSF) and functional traits are two active but not well theoretically integrated areas of research. However, PSF and traits are both affected by life-history evolution, so the two should theoretically be related. We provide a conceptual framework to link plant functional traits to two types of PSF metrics, and hypothesize that individual PSF (plant performance in conspecific vs. heterospecific soil) should be related to the fast–slow trait spectrum, whereas pairwise PSF (the sum of the individual feedbacks for two species growing in each other's soils) should be related to trait dissimilarity. We performed meta-analyses to test these hypotheses by compiling two datasets, one dataset consisting of individual PSF values and plant trait values (specific leaf area, SLA; leaf N concentration, LNC; specific root length, SRL; fine root diameter, FRD; plant height; seed mass), and the second consisting of pairwise PSF values and trait dissimilarity. Our meta-analyses showed that individual PSF values were more negative in faster-growing species with greater SLA, LNC and SRL, supporting the growth–defence trade-off hypothesis. Plant height was positively correlated with individual PSF, perhaps because large, long-lived plants defend against pathogens better than smaller, shorter-lived plants. We also found that larger-seeded species had more positive or less negative PSF, likely reflecting greater tolerance of soil pathogens. The direction of relationships between trait dissimilarity and pairwise PSF varied with trait identity. Dissimilarities in SRL and FRD were negatively correlated with pairwise PSF while height dissimilarity was positively correlated with pairwise PSF. The contrasting relationships may reflect distinct links between trait dissimilarity and niche and fitness differences. Synthesis. Our results demonstrate how an integration of PSF and trait-based approaches can advance plant community ecology.

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