Plant diversity is an important driver of below-ground ecosystem functions, such as root growth, soil organic matter (SOM) storage and microbial metabolism, mainly by influencing the interactions between plant roots and soil. Dissolved organic matter (DOM), as the most mobile form of SOM, plays a crucial role for a multitude of soil processes that are central for ecosystem functioning. Thus, DOM is likely to be an important mediator of plant diversity effects on soil processes. However, the relationships between plant diversity and DOM have not been studied so far. We investigated the mechanisms underlying plant diversity effects on concentrations of DOM using continuous soil water sampling across 6 years and 62 plant communities in a long-term grassland biodiversity experiment in Jena, Germany. Furthermore, we investigated plant diversity effects on the molecular properties of DOM in a subset of the samples. Although DOM concentrations were highly variable over the course of the year with highest concentrations in summer and autumn, we found that DOM concentrations consistently increased with plant diversity across seasons. The positive plant diversity effect on DOM concentrations was mainly mediated by increased microbial activity and newly sequestered carbon in topsoil. However, the effect of soil microbial activity on DOM concentrations differed between seasons, indicating DOM consumption in winter and spring, and DOM production in summer and autumn. Furthermore, we found increased contents of small and easily decomposable DOM molecules reaching deeper soil layers with high plant diversity. Synthesis. Our findings suggest that plant diversity enhances the continuous downward transport of DOM in multiple ways. On the one hand, higher plant diversity results in higher DOM concentrations, on the other hand, this DOM is less degraded. This study indicates, for the first time, that higher plant diversity enhances the downward transport of dissolved molecules that likely stimulate soil development in deeper layers and therefore increase soil fertility.
- dissolved organic carbon
- ecosystem functions and services
- plant–soil interactions