Pervasive and strong effects of plants on soil chemistry: A meta-analysis of individual plant ‘zinke’ effects

Bonnie Waring, Leonor Álvarez-Cansino, Kathryn E. Barry, Kristen K. Becklund, Sarah Dale, Maria G Gei, Adrienne B. Keller, Omar R. Lopez, Lars Markesteijn, Scott Mangan, Charlotte E Riggs, María Elizabeth Rodríguez-Ronderos, R. Max Segnitz, Stefan A. Schnitzer, Jennifer S Powers

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59 Scopus citations


Plant species leave a chemical signature in the soils below them, generating fine-scale spatial variation that drives ecological processes. Since the publication of a seminal paper on plant-mediated soil heterogeneity by Paul Zinke in 1962, a robust literature has developed examining effects of individual plants on their local environments (individual plant effects). Here, we synthesize this work using meta-analysis to show that plant effects are strong and pervasive across ecosystems on six continents. Overall, soil properties beneath individual plants differ from those of neighbours by an average of 41%. Although the magnitudes of individual plant effects exhibit weak relationships with climate and latitude, they are significantly stronger in deserts and tundra than forests, and weaker in intensively managed ecosystems. The ubiquitous effects of plant individuals and species on local soil properties imply that individual plant effects have a role in plant–soil feedbacks, linking individual plants with biogeochemical processes at the ecosystem scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20151001
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1812
StatePublished - Jul 29 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


  • Individual plant effects
  • Plant–soil interactions
  • Spatial heterogeneity


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