Interactions between aboveground and belowground biota have the potential to modify ecosystem responses to climate change, yet little is known about how drought influences plant-soil feedbacks with respect to microbial mediation of plant community dynamics.
We tested the hypothesis that drought modifies plant-soil feedback with consequences for plant competition. We measured net pairwise plant-soil feedbacks for two grassland plant species grown in monoculture and competition in soils that had or had not been subjected to a previous drought, these were then exposed to a subsequent drought. To investigate the mechanisms involved, we assessed treatment responses of soil microbial communities and nutrient availability.
We found that previous drought had a legacy effect on bacterial and fungal communities composition that decreased plant growth in conspecific soils and had knock-on effects for plant competitive interactions. Moreover, plant and microbial responses to subsequent drought depended on a legacy effect of the previous drought on plant-soil interactions.
We show that drought has lasting effects on belowground communities with consequences for plant-soil feedbacks and plant-plant interactions. This suggests that drought, which is predicted to increase in frequency with climate change, may change soil functioning and plant community composition via modification of plant-soil feedbacks.