Biological Invasions

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 1435–1445 | Cite as

Biogeographic differences in the effects of Centaurea stoebe on the soil nitrogen cycle: novel weapons and soil microbes

  • Andrea S. Thorpe
  • Ragan M. Callaway
Original Paper


The success of some invasive plants may be due in part to native organisms lacking adaptation to species-specific biochemical traits of invaders—the Novel Weapons Hypothesis. We tested this hypothesis in the context of soil microbial communities by comparing the effects of Centaurea stoebe and the root exudate (±)-catechin, on ammonification and nitrification in both the non-native and native ranges of this species. In a non-native range (Montana), soil nitrate (NO3 ) concentrations were lower in invaded than uninvaded grasslands. This did not appear to be due only to higher uptake rates as both C. stoebe plants and catechin significantly reduced resin extractable NO3 , the maximum rate of nitrification, and gross nitrification in Montana soils. Thus, reduced NO3 in invaded communities may be due in part to the inhibition of nitrifying bacteria by secondary metabolites produced by C. stoebe. The effects of C. stoebe on N-related processes were different in Romanian grasslands, where C. stoebe is native. In Romanian soil, C. stoebe had no effect on resin extractable NH4 + or NO3 (compared to other plant species), the maximum rate of nitrification, nor gross nitrification. A relatively high concentration of catechin reduced the maximum rate of nitrification in situ, but substantially less than in Montana. In vivo, gross ammonification was lowest when treated with catechin. Our results suggest biogeographic differences in the way a plant species alters nitrogen cycling through the direct effects of root exudates and adds to a growing body of literature demonstrating the important belowground effects of invasive plants.


Nitrification Nitrogen Spotted knapweed Biogeography Ammonification Catechin 



We are grateful for funding from the Montana Department of Agriculture Noxious Weeds Trust Fund, John W. Marr Memorial Ecology Fund, and the P.E.O. Sisterhood to A.S.T., and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Center, the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, International Programs at the National Science Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation to R.M.C. We thank G. Thelen and A. Diaconu for assistance in the field in Montana and Romania, T. Deluca for assistance with nitrogen analyses, and M. Grecu and V. Cosma for translation in Romania.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 42 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 14 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (DOC 59 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (DOC 58 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Applied EcologyCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Division of Biological SciencesThe University of MontanaMissoulaUSA

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