Plants produce thousands of compounds, collectively called the metabolome, which mediate interactions with other organisms. The metabolome of an individual plant may change according to the number and nature of these interactions. We tested the hypothesis that tree diversity level affects the metabolome of four subtropical tree species in a biodiversity– ecosystem functioning experiment, BEF- China. We postulated that the chemical diversity of leaves, roots and root exudates increases with tree diversity. We expected that the strength of this diversity effect differs among leaf, root and root exudates samples. Considering their role in plant competition, we expected to find the strongest effects in root exudates.
Roots, root exudates and leaves of four tree species (Cinnamomum camphora, Cyclobalanopsis glauca, Daphniphyllum oldhamii and Schima superba) were sampled from selected plots in BEF- China. The exudate metabolomes were normalized over their non- purgeable organic carbon level. Multivariate analyses were applied to identify the effect of both neighbouring (local) trees and plot diversity on tree metabolomes. The species- and sample- specific metabolites were assigned to major compound classes using the ClassyFire tool, whereas potential metabolites related to diversity effects were annotated manually.
Individual tree species showed distinct leaf, root and root exudate metabolomes. The main compound class in leaves was the flavonoids, whereas carboxylic acids, prenol lipids and specific alkaloids were most prominent in root exudates and roots. Overall, plot diversity had a stronger effect on metabolome profiles than the local diversity. Leaf metabolomes responded more often to tree diversity level than exudates, whereas root metabolomes varied the least. We found no uniform or general pattern of alterations in metabolite richness or diversity in response to variation in tree diversity. The response differed among species and tissues.
Synthesis. Classification of metabolites supported initial ecological interpretation of differences among species and organs. Particularly, the metabolomes of leaves and root exudates respond to differences in tree diversity. These responses were neither linear nor uniform and individual metabolites showed different dynamics. More controlled interaction experiments are needed to dissect the causes and consequences of the observed shifts in plant metabolomes.
*, Stefanie Doll, Min Liu, Andreas Schedl, Yvonne Poschl, Xingliang Xu, Steffen Neumann and Nicole M. van Dam. Tree species richness differentially affects the chemical composition of leaves, roots and root exudates in four subtropical tree species. Journal of Ecology. 110(1): 97-116. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13777.