VIDI project: Belowground plant-fungal interactions in natural grasslands
The diverse worlds of plants and soil meet in the rhizosphere, where they collectively drive ecosystem functioning. However, recent studies also suggest that these interactions determine plant species coexistence. Plants make their direct environment increasingly unsuitable for themselves, a phenomenon known as negative plant-soil feedback (PSF), caused by soil pathogens. PSF increases opportunities for other species to establish, promoting plant coexistence. However, for this hypothesis to work, PSF should meet two criteria. The first is host-specificity: negative effects should be restricted to the focal species. The second is density-dependence: the strength of negative PSF should increase with host density. In this project we aim to reveal the interplay between soil-borne pathogenic fungi, conspecific and heterospecific grassland plants in order to provide a mechanistic basis for coexistence. More information: Eline Ampt and Robert Veldman
PhD project Lisette Bakker - Root traits in a changing world
Plant communities have to cope with environmental changes that can cause dramatic reductions in the primary productivity and ecosystems’ stability, among which biodiversity loss and drought events. In this project, we aim to determine the factors that make plant communities resilient to extreme summer drought by looking at the diversity in certain plant functional traits. The focus will be on root traits, as they play an important role in the water and nutrient uptake. In a common garden experiment, plant monoculture plots of 16 grassland species are established to measure the plant traits and responses to a simulated summer drought. More information: Lisette Bakker
The Jena Experience
The Jena Biodiversity Experiment (Jena, Germany, The Jena experiment) was established with the aim to link biodiversity to ecosystem functioning. Sixty plant species, native and common to the Central European Arrhenatherum grasslands, served as a pool from which experimental plant communities of different diversities were assembled.
Over the first 10 years of the Jena Experiment we could observe increasingly positive complementarity effects among plant species and the emergence of stronger diversity signals in ecosystem element fluxes and pools. In the coming years we expect these trends to continue, allowing us to study the underlying mechanisms. We aim to see whether the increasing complementarity effects, that are partly counterbalanced by increasingly negative selection effects of particular plant species, can be explained by abiotic or biotic feedbacks and how they are related to functional differences among species. For an overview of the research over the last 15 years, please click HERE
Together with dr Alex Weigelt (Uni Leipzig, Germany) I am responsible for managing the team that studies of belowground plant-plant interactions by performing detailed measurements of root distribution based on classical root coring and innovative molecular species identification, combined with state-of-the-art isotopic and non-isotopic tracer applications to quantify root activity patterns in space and time. Recently, we have started to broaden our scope to belowground plant-fungal interactions, since dr. Davide Francioli is investigating soil-borne fungal communities in roots along the diversity gradient.
PhD students and postdocs that contributed to the root projects within the Jena Experiment: Janneke Ravenek; Annette Jesch; Natalie Oram; Hongmei Chen and Katie Barry.