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The impact of failure: unsuccessful bacterial invasions steer the soil microbial community away from the invader’s niche

The ISME Journalvolume 12pages728741 (2018) | Download Citation


Although many environments like soils are constantly subjected to invasion by alien microbes, invaders usually fail to succeed, succumbing to the robust diversity often found in nature. So far, only successful invasions have been explored, and it remains unknown to what extent an unsuccessful invasion can impact resident communities. Here we hypothesized that unsuccessful invasions can cause impacts to soil functioning by decreasing the diversity and niche breadth of resident bacterial communities, which could cause shifts to community composition and niche structure—an effect that is likely exacerbated when diversity is compromised. To examine this question, diversity gradients of soil microbial communities were subjected to invasion by the frequent, yet oft-unsuccessful soil invader, Escherichia coli, and evaluated for changes to diversity, bacterial community composition, niche breadth, and niche structure. Contrary to expectations, diversity and niche breadth increased across treatments upon invasion. Community composition and niche structure were also altered, with shifts of niche structure revealing an escape by the resident community away from the invader’s resources. Importantly, the extent of the escape varied in response to the community’s diversity, where less diverse communities experienced larger shifts. Thus, although transient and unsuccessful, the invader competed for resources with resident species and caused tangible impacts that modified both the diversity and functioning of resident communities, which can likely generate a legacy effect that influences future invasion attempts.

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We thank Irene Marring, Nadine Guillaumaud, Denis Warshan, and Giovanni Laudanno for their help in the laboratory and with data analyses. Funding was provided by Ecologie Microbienne Lyon (UMR INRA 1418, UMR CNRS 5557) and personal grant to JFS from the University of Groningen. G.S.v.D. was supported by Starting Independent Researcher Grant #309555 of the European Research Council and Vidi Grant 864.11.012 of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Author information


  1. Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

    • C. A. Mallon
    • , G. S. van Doorn
    • , F. Dini-Andreote
    •  & J. F. Salles
  2. INRA, CNRS, Université Lyon 1, Université de Lyon, Laboratory of Microbial Ecology (LEM), Villeurbanne, France

    • X. Le Roux
    •  & F. Poly


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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to C. A. Mallon.

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