Shared community history strengthens plant diversity effects on belowground multitrophic functioning
The relationship of plant diversity and several ecosystem functions strengthens over time. This suggests that the restructuring of biotic interactions in the process of a community’s assembly and the associated changes in function differ between species-rich and species-poor communities. An important component of these changes is the feedback between plant and soil community history. In this study, we examined the interactive effects of plant richness and community history on the trophic functions of the soil fauna community. We hypothesized that experimental removal of either soil or plant community history would diminish the positive effects of plant richness on the multitrophic functions of the soil food-web, compared to mature communities. We tested this hypothesis in a long-term grassland biodiversity experiment by comparing plots across three treatments (without plant history, without plant and soil history, controls with ~20 years of plot specific community history). We found that the relationship between plant richness and belowground multitrophic functionality is indeed stronger in communities with shared plant and soil community history. Our findings indicate that anthropogenic disturbance can impact the functioning of the soil community through the loss of plant species but also by preventing feedbacks that develop in the process of community assembly.