Greenhouse- and Field-Measured Plant-Soil Feedbacks Are Not Correlated

Leslie E. Forero, Utah State University
Josephine Grenzer, Utah State University
Johannes Heinze, University of Potsdam
Conrad Schittko, University of Potsdam
Andrew Kulmatiski, Utah State University


Plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) have become a commonly invoked mechanism of plant coexistence and abundance. Yet, most PSF experiments have been performed in greenhouse conditions. To test whether or not greenhouse-measured PSF values are of similar magnitude and positively correlated with field-measured PSFs, we compared PSF values from five different studies that measured PSF values in both greenhouse and field conditions. For 36 plant species, greenhouse-measured PSF values were larger than and not positively correlated with field-measured PSF values. Similarly, these 36 species produced 269 soil-specific PSF values, and for each site there was no positive correlation between these greenhouse- and field-measured PSF values. While PSFs were observed in both greenhouse and field conditions, results provided no support at the soil, site or species level that a positive correlation exists between greenhouse- and field-measured PSF. Further, greenhouse-measured PSF appear to overestimate field-measured PSF. Although from five studies, results strongly suggest that field experiments are needed to understand the role of PSFs in plant communities in natural settings.