Complementarity among species in horizontal versus vertical rooting space

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Many experiments have shown a positive effect of species richness on productivity in grassland plant communities. However, it is poorly understood how environmental conditions affect this relationship. We aimed to test whether deep soil and limiting nutrient conditions increase the complementarity effect (CE) of species richness due to enhanced potential for resource partitioning.


We grew monocultures and mixtures of four common grassland species in pots on shallow and deep soil, factorially combined with two nutrient levels. Soil volume was kept constant to avoid confounding soil depth and volume. Using an additive partitioning method, we separated biodiversity effects on plant productivity into components due to species complementarity and dominance.

Important findings

Net biodiversity and complementarity effects were consistently higher in shallow pots, which was unexpected, and at the low nutrient level. These two results suggest that although belowground partitioning of resources was important, especially under low nutrient conditions, it was not due to differences in rooting depths. We conclude that in our experiment (i) horizontal root segregation might have been more important than the partitioning of rooting depths and (ii) that the positive effects of deep soil found in other studies were due to the combination of deeper soil with larger soil volume.

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