Previous studies on biodiversity and soil food web composition have mentioned plant species identity, as well as plant species diversity as the main factors affecting the abundance and diversity of soil organisms. However, most studies have been carried out under limitations of time, space, or appropriate controls. In order to further examine the relation between plant species diversity and the soil food web, we conducted a three-year semi-field experiment in which eight plant species (4 forb and 4 grass species) were grown in monocultures and mixtures of two, four and eight plant species. In addition there were communities with 16 plant species. We analyzed the abundance and identity of the nematodes in soil and roots, including feeding groups from various trophic levels (primary and secondary consumers, carnivores, and omnivores) in the soil food web.
Plant species diversity and plant identity affected the diversity of nematodes. The effect of plant diversity was attributed to the complementarity in resource quality of the component plant species rather than to an increase in total resource quantity. The nematode diversity varied more between the different plant species than between different levels of plant species diversity, so that plant identity is more important than plant diversity. Nevertheless the nematode diversity in plant mixtures was higher than in any of the plant monocultures, due to the reduced dominance of the most abundant nematode taxa in the mixed plant communities. Plant species identity affected the abundances of the lower trophic consumer levels more than the higher trophic levels of nematodes. Plant species diversity and plant biomass did not affect nematode abundance. Our results, therefore, support the hypothesis that resource quality is more important than resource quantity for the diversity of soil food web components and that plant species identity is more important than plant diversity per se.