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Oecologia. 2017 Apr;183(4):1077-1086. doi: 10.1007/s00442-017-3828-1. Epub 2017 Feb 3.

Spatial heterogeneity of plant-soil feedbacks increases per capita reproductive biomass of species at an establishment disadvantage.

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Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, 44106, USA.
Department of Biology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, 44106, USA.
Landcare Research, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand.
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA.
Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, OH, 44094, USA.


Plant-soil feedbacks have been widely implicated as a driver of plant community diversity, and the coexistence prediction generated by a negative plant-soil feedback can be tested using the mutual invasibility criterion: if two populations are able to invade one another, this result is consistent with stable coexistence. We previously showed that two co-occurring Rumex species exhibit negative pairwise plant-soil feedbacks, predicting that plant-soil feedbacks could lead to their coexistence. However, whether plants are able to reproduce when at an establishment disadvantage ("invasibility"), or what drivers in the soil might correlate with this pattern, are unknown. To address these questions, we created experimental plots with heterogeneous and homogeneous soils using field-collected conditioned soils from each of these Rumex species. We then allowed resident plants of each species to establish and added invader seeds of the congener to evaluate invasibility. Rumex congeners were mutually invasible, in that both species were able to establish and reproduce in the other's resident population. Invaders of both species had twice as much reproduction in heterogeneous compared to homogeneous soils; thus the spatial arrangement of plant-soil feedbacks may influence coexistence. Soil mixing had a non-additive effect on the soil bacterial and fungal communities, soil moisture, and phosphorous availability, suggesting that disturbance could dramatically alter soil legacy effects. Because the spatial arrangement of soil patches has coexistence implications, plant-soil feedback studies should move beyond studies of mean effects of single patch types, to consider how the spatial arrangement of patches in the field influences plant communities.


Black box; Coexistence; Invasibility; Soil microbes; Soil nutrient availability

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