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Meta-analysis shows that plant mixtures increase soil phosphorus availability and plant productivity in diverse ecosystems


Soil phosphorus (P) availability is critical to plant productivity in many terrestrial ecosystems. How soil P availability responds to changes in plant diversity remains uncertain, despite the global crisis of rapid biodiversity loss. Our meta-analysis based on 180 studies across various ecosystems (croplands, grasslands, forests and pot experiments) shows that, on average, soil total P, phosphatase activity and available P are 6.8%, 8.5% and 4.6%, respectively, higher in species mixtures than in monocultures. The mixture effect on phosphatase activity becomes more positive with increasing species and functional group richness, with more pronounced increases in the rhizosphere than in the bulk soil. The mixture effects on soil-available P in the bulk soil do not change, but with increasing species or functional group richness these effects in the rhizosphere soil shift from positive to negative. Nonetheless, enhanced soil phosphatase activity stimulated available P in diverse species mixtures, offsetting increased plant uptake effects that decrease soil-available P. Moreover, the enhancement effects of species richness on soil phosphatase activity are positively associated with increased plant productivity. Our findings highlight that preserving plant diversity could increase soil phosphatase activity and P availability, which sustain the current and future productivity of terrestrial ecosystems.

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Fig. 1: A conceptual diagram illustrating how plant diversity influences soil P cycling in terrestrial ecosystems.
Fig. 2: Comparison of soil total P, phosphatase activity and available P in species mixtures versus monocultures among bulk and rhizosphere soils.
Fig. 3: Comparison of soil total P, phosphatase activity and available P in species mixtures versus monocultures in relation to SR and FR.
Fig. 4: The interactive effects of the plant SR (or FR) in mixtures and SC on soil phosphatase activity and available P.
Fig. 5: The influence of soil phosphatase activity on plant productivity and soil-available P.

Data availability

The source data underlying Figs 15, Extended Data Fig. 1, Supplementary Figs. 18 and Supplementary Tables 19 are archived in figshare (

Code availability

The code used in this study is available at figshare (


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We thank the Discovery Grants program (grant no. RGPIN-2018-05700 to S.C.) of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for supporting this research. X.C. wishes to thank NSERC and the Government of Canada for a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship. H.Y.H.C. was also supported by NSERC grants (nos. RGPIN-2019-5109 and STPGP506284).

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X.C., H.Y.H.C. and S.C. designed the study. X.C. collected data. X.C. performed the meta-analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript and all authors wrote interactively through multiple rounds of revisions.

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Correspondence to Scott X. Chang.

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Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Chunjie Li and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1

Geographical distribution of experiments testing plant mixture effects on soil total P, phosphatase activity and available P collected for this meta-analysis.

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Chen, X., Chen, H.Y.H. & Chang, S.X. Meta-analysis shows that plant mixtures increase soil phosphorus availability and plant productivity in diverse ecosystems. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 1112–1121 (2022).

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