Early-successional vegetation changes after roadside prairie restoration modify processes related with soil functioning by changing microbial functional diversity

Pablo García-Palacios, Matthew A. Bowker, Stephen J. Chapman, Fernando T. Maestre, Santiago Soliveres, Antonio Gallardo, Fernando Valladares, César Guerrero, Adrián Escudero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Because of their rapidly changing vegetation dynamics and harsh environmental conditions, roadside prairies in semi-arid regions represent an exceptional study system in which to investigate the effects of plant-soil interactions on ecosystem functioning. We conducted a two-year field experiment on two roadside embankments in semi-arid central Spain differing in construction age to answer the following questions: (i) do commonly used restoration treatments (hydroseeding, fertilization and irrigation) affect soil microbial functional diversity and processes related to soil functioning (basal respiration, total N and P and in situ N availability rate)? (ii) what portion of plant effects on processes related to soil functioning is mediated indirectly by microbial functional diversity? Except for a small and negative irrigation effect on the microbial functional diversity in the three-year old site, the restoration treatments employed did not affect this variable. Fertilization increased plant diversity, an effect likely mediated by the enhanced soil nutrient availability with this treatment at early stages of secondary succession. In contrast, hydroseeding did not affect processes related to soil functioning. The total effect of the plant community on these processes was higher than that of the microbial functional diversity alone, suggesting that the studied slopes are to the greater extent regulated by plants. However, soil microbes are a key proximate influence in the system, as the indirect effects of plant community on soil functioning processes mediated by soil microbes represented 37-41% of the total plant effects observed. Our results indicate that the restoration of recently built slopes can potentially be improved with treatments that promote plant compositional shifts, such as fertilization, or alter soil function, such as the enhancement of soil microbial functional diversity. They also highlight that plant-soil interactions are an important process that can be manipulated for restoration purposes in early-successional stages, especially in nutrient-poor semi-arid ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1253
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Community level physiological profiles
  • Dominant species
  • Plant-soil interactions
  • Restoration
  • Roadside slopes
  • Secondary succession
  • Soil functioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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