Aims: In grassland biodiversity experiments, positive biodiversity effects on primary productivity increase over time. Recent research has shown that differential selection in monoculture and mixed-species communities leads to the rapid emergence of monoculture and mixture types, adapted to their own biotic community. We used eight plant species selected for 8 years in such a biodiversity experiment to test if monoculture and mixture types differed in metabolic profiles using infrared spectroscopy.
Methods: Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) was used to assess metabolic fingerprints of leaf samples of 10 individuals of each species from either monocultures or mixtures. The FTIR spectra were analyzed using multivariate procedures to assess (i) whether individuals within species could be correctly assigned to monoculture or mixture history based on the spectra alone and (ii) which parts of the spectra drive the group assignment, i.e. which metabolic groups were subject to differential selection in monocultures vs. mixtures.
Important Findings: Plant individuals within each of the eight species could be classified as either from monoculture or mixture selection history based on their FTIR spectra. Different metabolic groups were differentially selected in the different species; some of them may be related to defense of pathogens accumulating more strongly in monocultures than in mixtures. The rapid selection of the monoculture and mixture types within the eight study species could have been due to a sorting-out process based on large initial genetic or epigenetic variation within the species.