Shi‐Chen Zhu, Wen‐Shen Liu, Zi‐Wu Chen, Xiao‐Rui Liu, Hong‐Xiang Zheng, Bo‐Yu Chen, Xin‐Yu Zhi, Yuanqing Chao, Rong‐Liang Qiu, Chengjin Chu, Chong Liu, Jean Louis Morel, Antony van der Ent, Ye‐Tao Tang

Abiotic legacies mediate plant–soil feedback during early vegetation succession on rare earth element mine tailings

  • Ecology

Abstract An increasing number of studies have shown how feedback interactions between plants and soil can influence primary and secondary succession. However, very little is known about the patterns and mechanisms of such plant–soil feedbacks on stressed mine tailings ecosystem, which can be severely contaminated by a range of toxic elements. In a two‐phase plant–soil feedback experiment based on the rare earth element (REE) mine tailing soil, we investigated biotic (changes in bacterial and fungal communities) and abiotic (changes in chemical properties) legacies of three pioneer grass species, and examined feedback effects of three grasses, two legumes and two woody plants with different root traits. Positive plant–soil feedbacks were found in Miscanthus sinensis, Paspalum thunbergii and Tephrosia candida, and neutral feedbacks were observed in the other four plants. These effects corresponded with an increase in nutrients and total organic carbon, as well as a decrease in acidity and extractable aluminium and REEs. There were less signs of biotic changes in the conditioned tailings. The correlation analysis suggested a relationship between plants' responses to soil legacies and root traits, as well as root economics spectrum. On the mine tailings, acquisitive species with higher specific root length appeared to have greater potential for positive feedback. Synthesis and application. Our study shows that early succession on contaminated rare earth element mine tailings may lead to more positive plant–soil feedback than predicted based on results of non‐contaminated soils, mainly due to the alleviation of abiotic stress in tailings. Therefore, the improvement of specific abiotic soil stress and the trait‐based selection of acquisitive plants should be preferentially considered to promote the primary restoration of degraded land.

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