Out of the Loop: USU Ecologist Says Short-Term Plant-Soil Feedback Experiments May Fall Short

by Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University
October 11, 2022

The cause-effect sequence or “feedback” between plants and their soil microbial communities plays an important role in structuring plant communities. To predict this synergistic coexistence, researchers conduct short-term, pairwise experiments — measuring growth response of two plant species growing in soil cultivated by each of the species — based on mathematical theory. But does it work?

Utah State University ecologist Noelle Beckman and colleagues Ray Dybzinski of Loyola University Chicago and David Tilman of the University of Minnesota measured plant-soil feedbacks for six perennial prairie grass species in a short-term greenhouse study, and say their findings do not match outcomes observed in long-term experiments conducted at Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. They report results in the Oct. 8, 2022 issue of the journal Ecology. Their research is supported by the National Science Foundation.

“With the theoretical advancement of a pairwise feedback metric, there’s been a proliferation of short-term experiments,” says Beckman, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “However, few studies have linked the predictions of coexistence from species pairwise comparisons of plant growth from short-term experiments to the outcome of competitive interactions in the field.”

Keep reading: https://www.usu.edu/today/story/out-of-the-loop-usu-ecologist-says-short-term-plant-soil-feedback-experiments-may-fall-short

Read the Ecology paper: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecy.3883