Background: Over the past two decades many studies have demonstrated that plant species diversity promotes primary productivity and stability in grassland ecosystems. Additionally, soil community characteristics have also been shown to influence the productivity and composition of plant communities, yet little is known about whether soil communities also play a role in stabilizing the productivity of an ecosystem.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Here we use microcosms to assess the effects of the presence of soil communities on plant community dynamics and stability over a one-year time span. Microcosms were filled with sterilized soil and inoculated with either unaltered field soil or field soil sterilized to eliminate the naturally occurring soil biota. Eliminating the naturally occurring soil biota not only resulted in lower plant productivity, and reduced plant species diversity, and evenness, but also destabilized the net aboveground productivity of the plant communities over time, which was largely driven by changes in abundance of the dominant grass Lolium perenne. In contrast, the grass and legumes contributed more to net aboveground productivity of the plant communities in microcosms where soil biota had been inoculated. Additionally, the forbs exhibited compensatory dynamics with grasses and legumes, thus lowering temporal variation in productivity in microcosms that received the unaltered soil inocula. Overall, asynchrony among plant species was higher in microcosms where an unaltered soil community had been inoculated, which lead to higher temporal stability in community productivity.
Conclusions/Significance: Our results suggest that soil communities increase plant species asynchrony and stabilize plant community productivity by equalizing the performance among competing plant species through potential antagonistic and facilitative effects on individual plant species.