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Soil biota and exotic plant invasion


Invasive plants are an economic problem and a threat to the conservation of natural systems. Escape from natural enemies might contribute to successful invasion1, with most work emphasizing the role of insect herbivores2,3,4; however, microbial pathogens are attracting increased attention5. Soil biota in some invaded ecosystems may promote ‘exotic’ invasion6,7,8,9, and plant–soil feedback processes are also important. Thus, relatively rare species native to North America consistently demonstrate negative feedbacks with soil microbes that promote biological diversity10, whereas abundant exotic and native species demonstrate positive feedbacks that reduce biological diversity10. Here we report that soil microbes from the home range of the invasive exotic plant Centaurea maculosa L. have stronger inhibitory effects on its growth than soil microbes from where the weed has invaded in North America. Centaurea and soil microbes participate in different plant–soil feedback processes at home compared with outside Centaurea's home range. In native European soils, Centaurea cultivates soil biota with increasingly negative effects on the weed's growth, possibly leading to its control. But in soils from North America, Centaurea cultivates soil biota with increasingly positive effects on itself, which may contribute to the success of this exotic species in North America.

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Figure 1: Total biomass of C. maculosa plants grown in non-sterilized and sterilized soil collected from European (n = 4) and North American (n = 6) populations of C. maculosa.
Figure 2: Total biomass of C. maculosa plants grown alone in European soil (Central Massif population) and North American soil (Missoula population) that had been pre-cultured by either C. maculosa or a Festuca species native to the place of soil origin.


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We thank E. Corcket and R. Michalet for assistance with locating and identifying C. maculosa populations in Europe, and K. Feris for assistance with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis data analysis. Our research on soil microbes and plant invasion is supported by NSF, USDA, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The University of Montana.

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Correspondence to Ragan M. Callaway.

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Supplementary figures and methods for DGGE analysis. (PDF 65 kb)

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Callaway, R., Thelen, G., Rodriguez, A. et al. Soil biota and exotic plant invasion. Nature 427, 731–733 (2004).

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