Article

Divergent plant–soil feedbacks could alter future elevation ranges and ecosystem dynamics

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0150 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0150
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Abstract

Plant–soil feedbacks (PSF) are important interactions that may influence range dynamics in a changing world. What remains largely unknown is the generality of plant–soil biotic interactions across populations and the potential role of specific soil biota, both of which are key for understanding how PSF might change future communities and ecosystems. We combined landscape-level field observations and experimental soil treatments to test whether a dominant tree alters soil environments to impact its own performance and range shifts towards higher elevations. We show: (1) soil conditioning by trees varies with elevation, (2) soil biota relate to PSF, (3) under simulated conditions, biotic PSF constrain range shifts at lower elevations but allow for expansions at higher elevations, and (4) differences in soil conditioning predict feedback outcomes in specific range-shift scenarios. These results suggest that variable plant–soil biotic interactions may influence the migration and fragmentation of tree species, and that models incorporating soil parameters will more accurately predict future species distributions.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0929298. Funding for the project was also provided from the University of Tennessee. We thank A. Krohn at the Environmental Genetics and Genomics Laboratory for sequencing and bioinformatics assistance, as well as A. Classen and N. Sanders for providing helpful comments on the manuscript. Special thanks to P. Patterson at Northern Arizona University as well as I. Ware, K. McFarland, P. Meidl, C. Daws, E. Johnson, R. Wooliver, L. Mueller, A. Pfennigwerth and R. Zenni for field, greenhouse and lab support.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA.

    • Michael E. Van Nuland
    • , Joseph K. Bailey
    •  & Jennifer A. Schweitzer

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Contributions

M.E.V.N., J.K.B. and J.A.S. participated in the study design. M.E.V.N. performed the field work, data collection and statistical analyses. All authors discussed the results. M.E.V.N. wrote the initial manuscript draft, with significant edits from J.K.B. and J.A.S.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Michael E. Van Nuland or Joseph K. Bailey or Jennifer A. Schweitzer.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Discussion; Supplementary Methods; Supplementary Tables 1–10; Supplementary Figures 1–7