Plant species create positive feedbacks to patterns of nutrient cycling in natural ecosystems. For example, in nutrient-poor ecosystems, plants grow slowly, use nutrients efficiently and produce poor-quality litter that decomposes slowly and deters herbivores. /n contrast, plant species from nutrient-rich ecosystems grow rapidly, produce readily degradable litter and sustain high rates of herbivory, further enhancing rates of nutrient cycling. Plants may also create positive feedbacks to nutrient cycling because of species' differences in carbon deposition and competition with microbes for nutrients in the rhizosphere. New research is showing that species' effects can be as or more important than abiotic factors, such as climate, in controlling ecosystem fertility. Copyright © 1992. Published by Elsevier Ltd.