Functional diversity and identity of plant genotypes regulate rhizodeposition and soil microbial activity

Marina Semchenko, Piao Xue, Tomas Leigh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our understanding of the linkages between plant diversity and soil carbon and nutrient cycling is primarily derived from studies at the species level, while the importance and mechanisms of diversity effects at the genotype level are poorly understood. Here we examine how genotypic diversity and identity, and associated variation in functional traits, within a common grass species, Anthoxanthum odoratum, modified rhizodeposition, soil microbial activity and litter decomposition. Root litter quality was not significantly affected by plant genotypic diversity, but decomposition was enhanced in soils with the legacy of higher genotypic diversity. Plant genotypic diversity and identity modified rhizodeposition and associated microbial activity via two independent pathways. Plant genotypic diversity enhanced soil functioning via positive effects on variation in specific leaf area and total rhizodeposition. Genotype identity affected both rhizodeposit quantity and quality, and these effects were mediated by differences in mean specific leaf area, shoot mass and plant height. Rhizodeposition was more strongly predicted by aboveground than belowground traits, suggesting strong linkages between photosynthesis and root exudation. Our study demonstrates that functional diversity and identity of plant genotypes modulates belowground carbon supply and quality, representing an important but overlooked pathway by which biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)776-787
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist (Online)
Issue number2
Early online date8 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Anthoxanthum odoratum
  • functional traits
  • genetic diversity
  • litter decomposition
  • microbial respiration
  • rhizodeposition
  • root exudates
  • soil functioning


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