Effects of Plant Species Diversity and Composition on Nitrogen Cycling and the Trace Gas Balance of Soils

Niklaus, Pascal ; Wardle, David ; Tate, Kevin

In: Plant and Soil, 2006, vol. 282, no. 1-2, p. 83-98

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    Experiments addressing the role of plant species diversity for ecosystem functioning have recently proliferated. Most studies have focused on plant biomass responses. However, microbial processes involved in the production of N2O and the oxidation of atmospheric CH4 could potentially be affected via effects on N cycling, on soil diffusive properties (due to changes in water relations and root architecture) and by more direct interactions of plants with soil microbes. We studied ecosystem-level CH4 and N2O fluxes in experimental communities assembled from two pasture soils and from combinations of 1, 3, 6, 8 or 9 species typical for these pastures. The soils contrasted with respect to texture and fertility. N2O emissions decreased with diversity and increased in the presence of legumes. Soils were sinks for CH4 at all times; legume monocultures were a smaller sink for atmospheric CH4 than non-legume monocultures, but no effect of species richness per se was detected. However, both the exchange of CH4 and N2O strongly depended on plant community composition, and on the interaction of composition with soil type, indicating that the functional role of species and their interactions differed between soils. N2O fluxes were mainly driven by effects on soil nitrate and on nitrification while soil moisture had less of an effect. Soil microbial C and N and N mineralisation rates were not altered. The driver of the interactive soil type×plant community composition-effects was less clear. Because soil methanotrophs may take longer to respond to alterations of N cycling than the 1/2year treatment in this study, we also tested species richness-effects in two separate 5-year field studies, but results were ambiguous, indicating complex interactions with soil disturbance. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that plant community composition can affect the soil trace gas balance, whereas plant species richness per se was less important; it also indicates a potential link between the botanical composition of plant communities and global warming