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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Oct 22;274(1625):2621-7.

Negative plant-soil feedbacks may limit persistence of an invasive tree due to rapid accumulation of soil pathogens.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


Soil organisms influence plant species coexistence and invasion potential. Plant-soil feedbacks occur when plants change soil community composition such that interactions with that soil community in turn may positively or negatively affect the performance of conspecifics. Theories predict and studies show that invasions may be promoted by stronger negative soil feedbacks for native compared with exotic species. We present a counter-example of a successful invader with strong negative soil feedbacks apparently caused by host-specific, pathogenic soil fungi. Using a feedback experiment in pots, we investigated whether the relative strength of plant-soil feedbacks experienced by a non-native woody invader, Sapium sebiferum, differed from several native tree species by examining their performance in soils collected near conspecifics ('home soils') or heterospecifics ('away soils') in the introduced range. Sapium seedlings, but no native seedlings, had lower survival and biomass in its home soils compared with soils of other species (negative feedback'). To investigate biotic agents potentially responsible for the observed negative feedbacks, we conducted two additional experiments designed to eliminate different soil taxa ('rescue experiments'). We found that soil sterilization (pot experiment ) or soil fungicide applications (pot and field experiments) restored Sapium performance in home soil thereby eliminating the negative feedbacks we observed in the original experiment. Such negative feedbacks apparently mediated by soil fungi could have important effects on persistence of this invader by limiting Sapium seedling success in Sapium dominated forests (home soils) though their weak effects in heterospecific (away) soils suggest a weak role in limiting initial establishment.

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