Trophic and non-trophic interactions influence the mechanisms underlying biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships under different abiotic conditions

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Plant diversity effects on ecosystem functioning usually have been studied from a plant perspective. However, the mechanisms underlying biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships may also depend on positive or negative interactions between plants and other biotic and abiotic factors, which remain poorly understood. Here we assessed whether plant–herbivore and/or plant–detritivore interactions modify the biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationship and the mechanisms underlying biodiversity effects, including complementarity and selection effects, biomass allocation, vertical distribution of roots, and plant survival using a microcosm experiment. We also evaluated to what extent trophic and non-trophic interactions are affected by abiotic conditions by studying drought effects. Our results show that biotic and abiotic conditions influence the shape of the biodiversity–ecosystem function relationship, varying from hump-shaped to linear. For instance, total biomass increased linearly with plant richness in the presence of detritivores, but not in the absence of detritivores. Moreover, detritivore effects on belowground plant productivity were highly context dependent, varying in the presence of herbivores. Plant interactions with soil biota, especially with herbivores, influenced the mechanisms underlying diversity effects. Herbivores increased plant complementarity and modified biomass allocation and vertical distribution of roots. Furthermore, biotic–abiotic interactions influenced plant productivity differently across plant functional groups. Our findings emphasize the importance of complex biotic interactions underlying biodiversity effects, and that these biotic interactions may change with abiotic conditions. Despite minor changes in productivity in the short-term, soil biota-induced changes in plant–plant interactions and plant survival are likely to have significant long-term consequences for ecosystem functioning. Considering the context-dependency of multichannel interactions may contribute to reconciling differences among observed patterns in biodiversity studies. Further, abiotic conditions modified the effects of biotic interactions, suggesting that changes in environmental conditions may not only affect ecosystems directly, but also change the biotic composition of and dynamics within ecosystems.

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