Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 12, pp 3527–3534 | Cite as

The changing nature of plant–microbe interactions during a biological invasion

  • Jennifer A. Lau
  • Tomomi Suwa
Original Paper


Invasive plant species can alter belowground microbial communities. Simultaneously, the composition of soil microbial communities and the abundance of key microbes can influence invasive plant success. Such reciprocal effects may cause plant–microbe interactions to change rapidly during the course of biological invasions in ways that either inhibit or promote invasive species growth. Here we use a space-for-time substitution to illustrate how effects of soil microbial communities on the exotic legume Vicia villosa vary across uninvaded sites, recently invaded sites, and sites invaded by V. villosa for over a decade. We find that soil microorganisms from invaded areas increase V. villosa growth compared to sterilized soil or live soils collected from uninvaded sites, likely because mutualistic nitrogen-fixing rhizobia are not abundant in uninvaded areas. Notably, the benefits resulting from inoculation with live soils were higher for soils from recently invaded sites compared to older invasions, potentially indicating that over longer time scales, soil microbial communities change in ways that may reduce the success of exotic species. These findings suggest that short-term changes to soil microbial communities following invasion may facilitate exotic legume growth likely because of increases in the abundance of mutualistic rhizobia, but also indicate that longer term changes to soil microbial communities may reduce the growth benefits belowground microbial communities provide to exotic species. Our results highlight the changing nature of plant–microbe interactions during biological invasions and illustrate how altered biotic interactions could contribute to both the initial success and subsequent naturalization of invasive legume species.


Biotic interaction Facilitation Plant-soil feedback Resource mutualism Rhizobia Vicia villosa 



We thank T. Bassett, K. Keller, M. Hammond, S. Magnoli, E. Schultheis, and two anonymous reviewers for providing comments that substantially improved this manuscript and S. Harrison for providing 2001, 2002, and 2003 plant census and soil data. All field work was conducted at the McLaughlin Reserve. This work was funded by a National Science Foundation award (DEB-0918963) to J. A. L. This is KBS publication #1797.

Supplementary material

10530_2016_1245_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Plant BiologyMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA

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