Plant diversity and root traits benefit physical properties key to soil function in grasslands
Authors: Iain J. Gould, John N. Quinton, Alexandra Weigelt, Gerlinde B. De Deyn, Richard D. Bardgett
Journal: Ecology Letters
Publication Date: 26 July, 2016
Department of: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Plant diversity enhances soil physical structure
A team of scientists from Manchester, Lancaster, the Netherlands and Germany, have discovered that high plant diversity improves the structural stability of soil. The study is one of the first to investigate the effects of plant diversity on soil structure, which is of vital importance for soil health and the resistance of soils to erosion.
The team combined findings from a glasshouse and long-term (10 year) field experiment to show that high plant diversity consistently increased measures of soil aggregate stability, and that these effects were related to particular characteristics of roots, which bind and enmesh soil particles. They also discovered that the presence of particular plant species within mixed communities affected a wider range of soil physical properties, including hydrology and soil strength regimes.
The findings of this study provide new evidence of the fundamental importance of plant diversity for the physical structure of soil. But they are of wider significance. Upward of one-third of the earth’s soils are degraded, much of which being due to declines in soil physical structure. As such, the links between plant diversity and soil physical properties revealed here may provide the basis for combating soil physical degradation and restoring function to degraded soils.
- A third of the earth’s soils are degraded which is threatening global food security
- Declines in soil physical structure make soils vulnerable to soil erosion
- High plant diversity enhances soil physical structure in grasslands
- These effects are related to the traits, or characteristics, of roots, such as their length and diameter
- Certain plant species have strong effects on soil physical properties due to the nature of their rooting systems.
- Lancaster Environment Centre
- University of Leipzig
- German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
- Wageningen University