Effects of three-dimensional soil heterogeneity and species composition on plant biomass and biomass allocation of grass-mixtures
Soil heterogeneity significantly affects plant dynamics such as plant growth and biomass. Most studies developed soil heterogeneity in two dimensions, i.e. either horizontally or vertically. However, soil heterogeneity in natural ecosystems varies both horizontally and vertically i.e. in three dimensions. Previous studies on plant biomass and biomass allocation rarely considered the joint effects of soil heterogeneity and species composition. Thus, to investigate such joint effects on plant
... ass and biomass allocation, a controlled experiment was conducted, where three levels of soil heterogeneity and seven types of species compositions were applied. Such soil heterogeneity was developed by filling nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor substrates in an alternative pattern in pots with different patch sizes (small, medium or large), and species compositions was achieved by applying three plant species (i.e. Festuca elata, Bromus inermis, Elymus breviaristatus) in all possible combinations (growing either in monoculture or in mixtures). Results showed that patch size significantly impacted plant biomass and biomass allocation, which differed among plant species. Specially, at the pot scale, with increasing patch size, shoot biomass decreased, while root biomass and R: S ratio increased, and total biomass tended to show a unimodal pattern, where the medium patch supported higher total biomass. Moreover, at the substrate scale, more shoot biomass and total biomass were found in nutrient-rich substrate. Furthermore, at the community scale, two of the three target plant species growing in monoculture had more shoot biomass than those growing together with other species. Thus, our results indicate soil heterogeneity significantly affected plant biomass and biomass allocation, which differ among plant species, though more research is needed on the generalization on biomass allocation. We propose that soil heterogeneity should be considered more explicitly in studies with more species in long-term experiments.