Pervasive and strong effects of plants on soil chemistry: a meta-analysis of individual plant 'Zinke' effects

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Aug 7;282(1812):20151001. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1001.


Plant species leave a chemical signature in the soils below them, generating fine-scale spatial variation that drives ecological processes. Since the publication of a seminal paper on plant-mediated soil heterogeneity by Paul Zinke in 1962, a robust literature has developed examining effects of individual plants on their local environments (individual plant effects). Here, we synthesize this work using meta-analysis to show that plant effects are strong and pervasive across ecosystems on six continents. Overall, soil properties beneath individual plants differ from those of neighbours by an average of 41%. Although the magnitudes of individual plant effects exhibit weak relationships with climate and latitude, they are significantly stronger in deserts and tundra than forests, and weaker in intensively managed ecosystems. The ubiquitous effects of plant individuals and species on local soil properties imply that individual plant effects have a role in plant-soil feedbacks, linking individual plants with biogeochemical processes at the ecosystem scale.

Keywords: individual plant effects; plant–soil interactions; spatial heterogeneity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Soil / chemistry*


  • Soil