Plant diversity drives soil microbial biomass carbon in grasslands irrespective of global environmental change factors

Madhav Prakash Thakur, Alexandru Milcu, Pete Manning, Pascal A. Niklaus, Christiane Roscher, Sally Power, Peter B Reich, Stefan Scheu, David Tilman, Fuxun Ai, Hongyan Guo, Rong Ji, Sarah Pierce, Nathaly Guerrero Ramirez, Annabell Nicola Richter, Katja Steinauer, Tanja Strecker, Anja Vogel, Nico Eisenhauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Soil microbial biomass is a key determinant of carbon dynamics in the soil. Several studies have shown that soil microbial biomass significantly increases with plant species diversity, but it remains unclear whether plant species diversity can also stabilize soil microbial biomass in a changing environment. This question is particularly relevant as many global environmental change (GEC) factors, such as drought and nutrient enrichment, have been shown to reduce soil microbial biomass. Experiments with orthogonal manipulations of plant diversity and GEC factors can provide insights whether plant diversity can attenuate such detrimental effects on soil microbial biomass. Here, we present the analysis of 12 different studies with 14 unique orthogonal plant diversity × GEC manipulations in grasslands, where plant diversity and at least one GEC factor (elevated CO2, nutrient enrichment, drought, earthworm presence, or warming) were manipulated. Our results show that higher plant diversity significantly enhances soil microbial biomass with the strongest effects in long-term field experiments. In contrast, GEC factors had inconsistent effects with only drought having a significant negative effect. Importantly, we report consistent non-significant effects for all 14 interactions between plant diversity and GEC factors, which indicates a limited potential of plant diversity to attenuate the effects of GEC factors on soil microbial biomass. We highlight that plant diversity is a major determinant of soil microbial biomass in experimental grasslands that can influence soil carbon dynamics irrespective of GEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4076-4085
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Biodiversity loss
  • Carbon dynamics
  • Drought
  • Long-term experiments
  • Microbial activity
  • Plant biomass

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