Decomposers and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) both determine plant nutrition; however, little is known about their interactive effects on plant communities. We set up a greenhouse experiment to study effects of plant competition (one- and two-species treatments), Collembola (Heteromurus nitidus and Protaphorura armata), and AMF (Glomus intraradices) on the performance (above- and belowground productivity and nutrient uptake) of three grassland plant species (Lolium perenne, Trifolium pratense, and Plantago lanceolata) belonging to three dominant plant functional groups (grasses, legumes, and herbs). Generally, L. perenne benefited from being released from intraspecific competition in the presence of T. pratense and P. lanceolata. However, the presence of AMF increased the competitive strength of P. lanceolata and T. pratense against L. perenne and also modified the effects of Collembola on plant productivity. The colonization of roots by AMF was reduced in treatments with two plant species suggesting that plant infection by AMF was modified by interspecific plant interactions. Collembola did not affect total colonization of roots by AMF, but increased the number of mycorrhizal vesicles in P. lanceolata. AMF and Collembola both enhanced the amount of N and P in plant shoot tissue, but impacts of Collembola were less pronounced in the presence of AMF. Overall, the results suggest that, by differentially affecting the nutrient acquisition and performance of plant species, AMF and Collembola interactively modify plant competition and shape the composition of grassland plant communities. The results suggest that mechanisms shaping plant community composition can only be understood when complex belowground interactions are considered.
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