Resistance of soil biota and plant growth to disturbance increases with plant diversity

Jonathan A. Bennett, Alexander M. Koch, Jennifer Forsythe, Nancy C. Johnson, David Tilman, John Klironomos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Plant diversity is critical to the functioning of ecosystems, potentially mediated in part by interactions with soil biota. Here, we characterised multiple groups of soil biota across a plant diversity gradient in a long-term experiment. We then subjected soil samples taken along this gradient to drought, freezing and a mechanical disturbance to test how plant diversity affects the responses of soil biota and growth of a focal plant to these disturbances. High plant diversity resulted in soils that were dominated by fungi and associated soil biota, including increased arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and reduced plant-feeding nematodes. Disturbance effects on the soil biota were reduced when plant diversity was high, resulting in higher growth of the focal plant in all but the frozen soils. These results highlight the importance of plant diversity for soil communities and their resistance to disturbance, with potential feedback effects on plant productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalEcology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Carla Armstrong, Martin Leroux, Troy Mielke and Dennis Wong for assistance with sample collection and processing. They also thank the NSERC Discovery grant program for financial assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd/CNRS


  • Bacteria
  • fungi
  • microbial ecology
  • mycorrhizas
  • nematodes
  • plant diversity
  • primary productivity
  • resistance
  • soil biota
  • stability


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