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Intraspecific negative feedback effects, where performance is reduced on soils conditioned by conspecifics, are widely documented in plant communities. However, interspecific feedbacks are less well studied, and their direction, strength, causes, and consequences are poorly understood. If more closely related species share pathogens, or have similar soil resource requirements, plants may perform better on soils conditioned by more distant phylogenetic relatives. There have been few empirical tests of this prediction across plant life stages, and none of which attempt to account for soil chemistry. Here, we test the utility of phylogeny for predicting soil feedback effects on plant survival and performance (germination, seedling survival, growth rate, biomass). We implement a full factorial experiment growing species representing five families on five plant family-specific soil sources. Our experiments exploit soils that have been cultured for over 30 years in plant family-specific beds at Oxford University Botanic Gardens. Plant responses to soil source were idiosyncratic, and species did not perform better on soils cultured by phylogenetically more distant relatives. The magnitude and sign of feedback effects could, however, be explained by differences in the chemical properties of "home" and "away" soils. Furthermore, the direction of soil chemistry-related plant-soil feedbacks was dependent on plant life stage, with the effects of soil chemistry on germination success and accumulation of biomass inversely related. Our results (1) suggest that the phylogenetic distance between plant families cannot predict plant-soil feedbacks across multiple life stages, and (2) highlight the need to consider changes in soil chemistry as an important driver of population responses. The contrasting responses at plant life stages suggest that studies focusing on brief phases in plant demography (e.g., germination success) may not give a full picture of plant-soil feedback effects.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecol Evol

Publication Date





2333 - 2339


Aboveground–belowground ecology, Janzen-Connell, Oxford University Botanic Gardens, coexistence, germination, pathogens, phylogeny, seedling, soil sickness