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Understanding Plant Soil Feedback

Posted March 17th, 2017 by Bill Baugh in

Plant soil feedback is in the news and it is an important topic. Plant-soil feedback is important ecological concept for a number of reasons including vegetation dynamics, invasiveness of exotic species, and how ecosystems respond to climate change.

Definition of Plant-Soil Feedback

According to Wikipedia, plant-soil feedback is a process where plants alter the biotic and abiotic qualities of soil they grow in, which then alters the ability of plants to grow in that soil in the future. For our discussion, we’ll need two more definitions:

  • Biotic means living organisms, including beneficial microorganisms.
  • Abiotic means non-living factors such as soil nutrients and pH.

Plants not only affect their environment by growing, they also affect the ability of other plants to grow in their immediate area.

Types of Plant Soil Feedback

Negative Feedback

Plant-soil feedback can be both positive and negative. Negative feedback occurs when plants are less able to grow in soil that was previously occupied by members of their species. Most soil feedback is negative.

Positive Feedback

Positive feedback can occur between native plants and invasive species. In this instance, native plants may actually contribute to dominance by invasive species. The native plants may be changing the soil in a way that helps the invasive species survive, grow, and ultimately dominate the native plants.

The Future of Plant Soil Feedback Research

Plant soil feedback is an area of environmental botany that has just started to be studied and much more research is needed. In particular, we need more information about the underlying mechanics of the feedback, for both biotic and abiotic factors. We also need additional information about how changes can be generalized to make predictions about future events.

Bill Baugh is a product manager for Custom Biologicals, Inc. a manufacturer and distributor of innovative microbial products. You can visit their website at Living-Soils.com and he can be contacted at 561.797.3008 or Bill@Custombio.biz.

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