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Data from: Plant life history traits rather than soil legacies determine colonisation of soil patches in a multi-species grassland

Cite this dataset

in 't Zandt, Dina et al. (2022). Data from: Plant life history traits rather than soil legacies determine colonisation of soil patches in a multi-species grassland [Dataset]. Dryad.


Interactions between plants and soil biota are increasingly shown to play critical roles in plant species co-existence processes. Plant species co-existence is thought to be promoted via biotic legacies that plant species leave behind in the soil after a plant disappears. These soil legacies are hypothesised to supress colonisation success when the preceding plant is of the same species, that is, when a plant species encounters its own, species-specific soil antagonists.

However, colonisation of vacant spots in plant communities is in the first place determined by the ability of plants to reach such vacant locations. We currently lack an understanding of the explicit role of soil legacy effects and their relative contribution to colonisation processes in plant communities consisting of plant species inherently differing in colonisation ability.

In experimental, outdoor plant communities consisting of eight grassland species, we tested the effect of five differently conditioned soil patches on plant species colonisation success over three consecutive growing seasons. We found that colonisation success was largely determined by the species’ reproductive strategy, lateral spread and growth rate, and not by the plant species that conditioned the soil patch. Fast spreading, clonal plant species reached the soil patches first and initially attained the highest biomass inside the patch. One year later, slower spreading plant species colonised the patch via seedlings. Species with intrinsically high growth rates attained the highest biomass, decreasing biomass of the initial colonisers. While subtle differences between conditioned soil patches did occur, these were not strong enough to overcome the inherent differences in colonisation ability between the various plant species.

Synthesis: Our results reject the hypothesis that colonisation of vacant soil patches in plant communities is strongly affected by the legacy that is left behind by the preceding plant species. Instead, plant species life history strategy plays a prominent role, driving sequential plant species replacements. Based on our results and recent accounts in literature we present a conceptual model for local cyclic dynamics in grassland communities, where soil legacy plays a role in affecting the performance of established plant species rather than colonisation of vacant patches.


Dutch Research Council, Award: 824.01.003

European Commission, Award: 655771