The positive effect of plant diversity on soil carbon depends on climate

Marie Spohn*, Sumanta Bagchi, Lori A. Biederman, Elizabeth T. Borer, Kari Anne Bråthen, Miguel N. Bugalho, Maria C. Caldeira, Jane A. Catford, Scott L. Collins, Nico Eisenhauer, Nicole Hagenah, Sylvia Haider, Yann Hautier, Johannes M.H. Knops, Sally E. Koerner, Lauri Laanisto, Ylva Lekberg, Jason P. Martina, Holly Martinson, Rebecca L. McCulleyPablo L. Peri, Petr Macek, Sally A. Power, Anita C. Risch, Christiane Roscher, Eric W. Seabloom, Carly Stevens, G. F.(Ciska) Veen, Risto Virtanen, Laura Yahdjian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is currently known about how climate modulates the relationship between plant diversity and soil organic carbon and the mechanisms involved. Yet, this knowledge is of crucial importance in times of climate change and biodiversity loss. Here, we show that plant diversity is positively correlated with soil carbon content and soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratio across 84 grasslands on six continents that span wide climate gradients. The relationships between plant diversity and soil carbon as well as plant diversity and soil organic matter quality (carbon-to-nitrogen ratio) are particularly strong in warm and arid climates. While plant biomass is positively correlated with soil carbon, plant biomass is not significantly correlated with plant diversity. Our results indicate that plant diversity influences soil carbon storage not via the quantity of organic matter (plant biomass) inputs to soil, but through the quality of organic matter. The study implies that ecosystem management that restores plant diversity likely enhances soil carbon sequestration, particularly in warm and arid climates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6624
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date19 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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