, Volume 169, Issue 1, pp 235–243 | Cite as

Competitive context alters plant–soil feedback in an experimental woodland community

Ecosystem ecology - Original research paper


Recent findings on feedback between plants and soil microbial communities have improved our understanding of mechanisms underlying the success and consequences of invasions. However, additional studies to test for feedback in the presence and absence of interspecific competition, which may alter the strength or direction of feedbacks, are needed. We tested for soil microbial feedback in communities of the invasive grass Microstegium vimineum and commonly co-occurring native plant species. To incorporate competitive context, we used a factorial design with three plant treatments (M. vimineum alone, M. vimineum with the native plant community, and the native community without M. vimineum) and two soil inoculum treatments (experimentally invaded and uninvaded soil). When competing with M. vimineum, native communities were 27% more productive in invaded than uninvaded soil. In contrast, soil type did not significantly affect M. vimineum biomass or fecundity. At the community level, these results indicate a net negative soil microbial feedback when native plants and M. vimineum are grown in competitive mixture, but not when they are grown separately. Since positive, not negative, feedback is associated with dominance and invasion, our findings do not support plant–soil feedback as a driver of invasion in this species. Our results do show that the importance of soil feedback can change with competitive context. Such context-dependency implies that soil feedback may change when competitive interactions between natives and invading species shift as invasions progress.


Microstegium vimineum Eastern deciduous forest Soil microbial community Invasion ecology Competition 



Financial support for this project came from The Nature Conservancy, a partnership between Indiana University and the USDA Forest Service Hoosier National Forest, and the Indiana Academy of Sciences. We also thank Jim Bever, Stephanie Dickinson, and Jeffrey Firestone for statistical advice.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Barden LS (1987) Invasion of Microstegium vimineum (Poaceae), an exotic, annual, shade-tolerant, C4 grass, into a North Carolina floodplain. Am Midl Nat 118:40–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bauer JT, Flory SL (2011) Suppression of the woodland herb Senna hebecarpa by the invasive grass Microstegium vimineum. Am Midl Nat 165(1):105–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Belnap J, Phillips SL, Sherrod SK, Moldenke A (2005) Soil biota can change after exotic plant invasion: does this affect ecosystem processes? Ecology 86:3007–3017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bever JD (1994) Feedback between plants and their soil communities in an old field community. Ecology 75:1965–1977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bever JD, Westover KM, Antonovics J (1997) Incorporating the soil community into plant population dynamics: the utility of the feedback approach. J Ecol 85:561–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bever JD, Dickie IA, Facelli E, Facelli J, Klironomos J, Moora M, Rillig MC, Stock WD, Tibbett M, Zobel M (2010) Rooting theories of plant community ecology in microbial interactions. Trends Ecol Evol 24:468–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Callaway RM, Thelen GC, Barth S, Ramsey PW, Gannon JE (2004a) Soil fungi alter interactions between the invader Centaurea maculosa and North American natives. Ecology 85:1062–1071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Callaway RM, Thelen GC, Rodriguez A, Holben WE (2004b) Soil biota and exotic plant invasion. Nature 427:731–733PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Casper BB, Castelli JP (2007) Evaluating plant–soil feedback together with competition in a serpentine grassland. Ecol Lett 10:394–400PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Civitello DJ, Flory SL, Clay K (2008) Exotic grass invasion reduces survival of Amblyomma americanum and Dermacentor variabilis ticks (Acari : Ixodidae). J Med Entomol 45:867–872PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ehrenfeld JG, Kourtev PS, Huang W (2001) Changes in soil functions following invasions of exotic understory plants in deciduous forests. Ecol Appl 11:1287–1300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eviner VT, Hawkes CV (2008) Embracing variability in the application of plant–soil interactions to the restoration of communities and ecosystems. Rest Ecol 16:713–729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fairbrothers DE, Gray JR (1972) Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus (Gramineae) in the United States. Bull Torrey Bot Club 99:97–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flory SL, Clay K (2009) Effects of roads and forest successional age on experimental plant invasions. Biol Conserv 142:2531–2537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Flory SL, Clay K (2010a) Non-native grass invasion alters native plant composition in experimental communities. Biol Invasions 12:1285–1294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flory SL, Clay K (2010b) Non-native grass invasion suppresses forest succession. Oecologia 164:1029–1038PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Flory SL, Rudgers JA, Clay K (2007) Experimental light treatments affect invasion success and the impact of Microstegium vimineum on the resident community. Nat Areas J 27:124–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Govaerts B, Fuentes M, Mezzalama M, Nicol JM, Deckers J, Etchevers JD, Figueroa-Sandoval B, Sayre KD (2007) Infiltration, soil moisture, root rot and nematode populations after 12 years of different tillage, residue and crop rotation managements. Soil Tillage Res 94:209–219Google Scholar
  19. Inderjit, van der Putten WH (2010) Impacts of soil microbial communities on exotic plant invasions. Trends Ecol Evol 25:512–519PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klironomos JN (2002) Feedback with soil biota contributes to plant rarity and invasiveness in communities. Nature 417:67–70PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Knight TM, Dunn JL, Smith LA, Davis J, Kalisz S (2009) Deer facilitate invasive plant success in a Pennsylvania forest understory. Nat Areas J 29:110–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kourtev PS, Ehrenfeld JG, Häggblom M (2002) Exotic plant species alter the microbial community structure and function in the soil. Ecology 83:3152–3166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lankau RA, Nuzzo V, Spyreas G, Davis AS (2009) Evolutionary limits ameliorate the negative impact of an invasive plant. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:15362–15367PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levine JM, Adler PB, Yelenik SG (2004) A meta-analysis of biotic resistance to exotic plant invasions. Ecol Lett 7:975–989CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Petermann JS, Fergus AJF, Turnbull LA, Schmid B (2008) Janzen-Connell effects are widespread and strong enough to maintain diversity in grasslands. Ecology 89:2399–2406PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Simao MCM, Flory SL, Rudgers JA (2010) Experimental plant invasion reduces arthropod abundance and richness across multiple trophic levels. Oikos 119:1553–1562CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Stinson KA, Campbell SA, Powel JR, Wolfe BE, Callaway RM, Thelen GC, Hallett SG, Prati D, Klironomos JN (2006) Invasive plant suppresses the growth of native tree seedlings by disrupting belowground mutualisms. PLoS Biol 4:727–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. te Beest M, Stevens N, Olff H, van der Putten WH (2009) Plant–soil feedback induces shifts in biomass allocation in the invasive plant Chromolaena odorata. J Ecol 97:1281–1290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Van der Putten WH, Kowalchuk GA, Brinkman EP, Doodeman GT, van der Kaaij RM et al (2007) Soil feedback of exotic savanna grass relates to pathogen absence and mycorrhizal selectivity. Ecology 88:978–988Google Scholar
  30. Vinton MA, Goergen EM (2006) Plant–soil feedbacks contribute to the persistence of Bromus inermis in tallgrass prairie. Ecosystems 9:967–976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wolfe BE, Klironomos JN (2005) Breaking new ground: soil communities and exotic plant invasion. Bioscience 55:477–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Shannon
    • 1
  • S. Luke Flory
    • 1
    • 2
  • Heather Reynolds
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AgronomyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations