Schroeder, John W.; Andrew Dobson; Scott A. Mangan; Daniel F. Petticord and Edward Allen Herre

Empirical studies show that plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) can generate negative density dependent (NDD) recruitment capable of maintaining plant community diversity at landscape scales. However, the observation that common plants often exhibit relatively weaker NDD than rare plants at local scales is difficult to reconcile with the maintenance of overall plant diversity. We develop a spatially explicit simulation model that tracks the community dynamics of microbial mutualists, pathogens, and their plant hosts. We find that net PSF effects vary as a function of both host abundance and key microbial traits (e.g., host affinity) in ways that are compatible with both common plants exhibiting relatively weaker local NDD, while promoting overall species diversity. The model generates a series of testable predictions linking key microbial traits and the relative abundance of host species, to the strength and scale of PSF and overall plant community diversity.