Effects of plant functional group loss on soil biota and net ecosystem exchange: A plant removal experiment in the Mongolian grassland

Dima Chen, Qingmin Pan, Yongfei Bai, Shuijin Hu, Jianhui Huang, Qibing Wang, Shahid Naeem, James Elser, Jianguo Wu, Xingguo Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

The rapid loss of global biodiversity can greatly affect the functioning of above-ground components of ecosystems. However, how such biodiversity losses affect below-ground communities and linkages to soil carbon (C) sequestration is unclear. Here, we describe how losses in plant functional groups (PFGs) affect soil microbial and nematode communities and net ecosystem exchange (NEE) in a 4-year removal experiment conducted on the Mongolian plateau, the world's largest remaining natural grassland. Our results demonstrated that the biomasses or abundances of most components of the two below-ground communities (microbes and nematodes) were negatively affected by PFG loss and were positively related to above-ground plant biomass. The removal of dominant PFGs (perennial bunchgrasses and perennial rhizomatous grasses) reduced the biomass or abundance of below-ground community components while removal of less dominant PFGs (perennial forbs and annuals/biennials) did not change or increased the biomass or abundance of below-ground community components. The biomass-based ratio of fungal to bacterial microbes and the number-based ratio of fungal-feeding to bacterial-feeding nematodes decreased with increasing PFG losses. Variation partitioning analyses showed that the identity of PFGs together with above-ground plant biomass explained most of the total variation in soil microbes and that the identity of PFGs and above-ground plant biomass together with nematode food resources explained most of the total variation in soil nematodes. The increase in NEE with PFG loss was mainly explained by decreases in above-ground plant biomass and the ratio of fungi to bacteria. Synthesis. The shift of below-ground communities from a fungal-based to a bacterial-based energy channel as PFG richness decreases indicates that less diverse grassland ecosystems will have lower nutrient retention and hence be more sensitive to land-use or climate change. The dominant effects of above-ground plant biomass and below-ground communities on NEE indicate that PFG loss resulting from land-use or climate change has the potential to reduce C sequestration in semi-arid grassland soils. These findings suggest that predictive models may need to consider the composition of above-ground and below-ground communities in order to accurately simulate the dynamics of CO2 fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. The shift of below-ground communities from a fungal-based to a bacterial-based energy channel as PFG richness decreases indicates that less diverse grassland ecosystems will have lower nutrient retention and hence be more sensitive to land use or climate change. The dominant effects of above-ground plant biomass and below-ground communities on NEE indicate that PFG loss resulting from land-use or climate change has the potential to reduce C sequestration in semi-arid grassland soils. These findings suggest that predictive models may need to consider the composition of above-ground and below-ground communities in order to accurately simulate the dynamics of CO2 fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-743
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume104
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2016

Keywords

  • Biodiversity loss
  • Compensatory effect
  • Mass ratio hypothesis
  • Plant functional group
  • Plant-soil (below-ground) interactions
  • Soil C sequestration
  • Soil food web
  • Soil microbes
  • Soil nematodes
  • Trophic levels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science

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