DOI: 10.1111/plb.13597 ISSN: 1435-8603

Soil legacies of tree species richness in a young plantation do not modulate tree seedling response to watering regime

E. Dhiedt, L. Baeten, P. De Smedt, K. Verheyen
  • Plant Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Medicine


Trees have a strong and species‐specific influence on biotic and abiotic properties of the soil. Even after the vegetation is removed, the effect can persist to form so‐called soil legacies. We investigated the effects of soil legacies of tree species richness on the emergence and growth of tree seedlings, and how these legacy effects modulate the seedling responses to irrigation frequency.

We used a 9‐year‐old tree plantation on former agricultural land in Belgium, which is part of a biodiversity‐ecosystem functioning experiment (FORBIO). Soil originating from monocultures and four‐species plots, with different species combinations, was translocated to a greenhouse. Five tree species (Betula pendula, Fagus sylvatica, Pinus sylvestris, Quercus robur, and Tilia cordata) were sown and grown for one growing season in these soils. We performed a watering treatment (low and high irrigation frequency) to measure any potential interaction effects between the soil legacies and irrigation frequency.

There was no evidence for soil legacy effects of species richness on plant performance or their response to the irrigation frequency. However, the effect of irrigation frequency was dependent on species identity of the tree seedlings. Despite the lack of clear legacy effects, performance measures did show correlated responses that are likely due to species composition effects.

We ascribe these patterns to the young age of the forest and the agricultural past land use. At this early stage in forest development, the land‐use history likely has a more important role in shaping soil characteristics that affect plant growth and their response to drought, than species diversity.

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