1.Plants leave species-specific legacies in the soil they grow in that can represent changes in abiotic or biotic soil properties. It has been shown that such legacies can affect future plants that grow in the same soil (plant-soil feedback, PSF). Such processes have been studied in detail, but mostly on individual plants. Here we study PSF effects at the community level and use a trait-based approach both in the conditioning phase and in the feedback phase to study how twelve individual soil legacies influence six plant communities that differ in root size.
2.We tested if (I) grassland perennial species with large root systems would leave a stronger legacy than those with small root systems, (II) grass species would leave a more positive soil legacy than forbs and (III) communities with large root systems would be more responsive than small-rooted communities. We also tested (IV) whether a leaf chewing herbivore and a phloem feeder were affected by soil legacy effects in a community framework.
3.Our study shows that the six different plant communities that we used respond differently to soil legacies of twelve different plant species and their functional groups. Species with large root systems did not leave stronger legacies than species with small root systems, nor were communities with large root systems more responsive than communities with root systems.
4.Moreover, we show that when communities are affected by soil legacies, these effects carry over to the chewing herbivore Mamestra brassicae (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) through induced behavioral changes resulting in better performance of a chewing herbivore on forb-conditioned soils than on grass-conditioned soils, whereas performance of the phloem feeder Rhopalosiphum padi (Hemiptera: Aphididae) remained unaffected.
5.Synthesis: The results of this study shed light on the variability of soil effects found in previous work on feedbacks in communities. Our study suggests that the composition of plant communities determines to a large part the response to soil legacies. Furthermore, the responses to soil legacies of herbivores feeding on the plant communities that we observed, suggests that in natural ecosystems, the vegetation history may also have an influence on contemporary herbivore assemblages. This opens up exciting new areas in plant-insect research and can have important implications for insect pest management.