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Embracing Variability in the Application of Plant–Soil Interactions to the Restoration of Communities and Ecosystems

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Address correspondence to V. T. Eviner, email veviner@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Plant–soil interactions are the foundation of effective and sustained restoration of terrestrial communities and ecosystems. Recent advances in ecological science have greatly contributed to our understanding of the effects of soil conditions on plant community dynamics and our understanding of plant composition impacts on almost every aspect of soil structure and function. Although these theories provide important guidelines for the practice of restoration, they often fall short of providing the level of information required to make effective site-specific management decisions. This is largely because of ecology’s search for simple unifying theories and the resulting tendency to generalize from studies at one or only a few sites. An average effect or broad-scale simple relationship tends to provide a “one-size-fits-all” (or none) prescription for managers. Plant–soil interactions can vary greatly depending on their context (e.g., environmental conditions, management practices, time, neighboring community, interaction with other organisms). The ability to predict these context-dependent interactions between plants and soils can be developed by building upon existing general frameworks for understanding plant–soil interactions. Collaborations between researchers and managers can develop conceptual tools that allow us to understand and manage the variability and complexity of plant–soil interactions, simultaneously advancing theory and applicability.

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