Spatial heterogeneity in soil particle size: does it affect the yield of plant communities with different species richness?

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AimsSoil heterogeneity is ubiquitous in many ecosystems. We hypothesized that plant communities with higher species richness might be better adapted to soil heterogeneity and produce more biomass than those with lower richness. This is because there is niche differentiation among species and different species can complement each other and occupy a broader range of niches when plant species richness is high. However, no study has tested how soil particle heterogeneity affects the yield of plant communities, and whether such effects depend on the spatial scale of the heterogeneity and the species richness within the communities.MethodsIn a greenhouse experiment, we sowed seeds of four-species or eight-species mixtures in three heterogeneous treatments consisting of 32, 8 or 2 patches of both small (1.5mm) and large quartz (3.0mm) particles arranged in a chessboard manner and one homogeneous treatment with an even mixture of small and large quartz particles.Important FindingsBiomass production was significantly greater in the communities with high species richness than those with low species richness. However, soil particle heterogeneity or its interactions with patch scale or species richness did not significantly affect biomass production of the experimental communities. This work indicates that plant species richness may have a bigger impact on plant productivity than soil particle heterogeneity. Further studies should consider multiple sets of plant species during longer time periods to unravel the potential mechanisms of soil heterogeneity and its interactions with the impacts of species richness on community yield and species coexistence.

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