Additive effects of functionally dissimilar above- and belowground organisms on a grassland plant community

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In nature, plant communities are affected simultaneously by a variety of functionally dissimilar organisms both above and below the ground. However, there is a gap of knowledge on interactive effects of functionally dissimilar organisms on plant communities that is needed to be filled to better understand and predict the general impact of biotic factors on plant communities.


We conducted a full-factorial mesocosm study to investigate the individual and combined impacts of above- and belowground functionally dissimilar organisms on a grassland plant community. We studied the effects of aboveground herbivores (Helix aspersa, Gastropoda), arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF; Glomus spp., Glomeromycota) and endogeic earthworms (Aporrectodea spp., Lumbricidae) on the diversity, structure and productivity of an experimental grassland plant community and each other.

Important Findings

Aboveground herbivory by snails decreased, AMF increased and earthworms had no effects on the diversity of the grassland plant community, while their combined effects were additive. The biomass of the plant community was negatively affected by snails and AMF, while no effects of earthworms or interaction effects were found. The plant species were differently affected by snails and AMF. No effects of the above- and belowground organisms on each other’s performance were detected. Since the effects of the functionally dissimilar organisms on the grassland plant community were mainly independent, the results indicate that their combined effects may be predicted by knowing the individual effects, at least under the conditions used in the present mesocosm study.

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