Plant–soil interactions promote co-occurrence of three nonnative woody shrubs

Sara E. Kuebbing, Aimée T. Classen, Jaime J. Call, Jeremiah A. Henning, and Daniel Simberloff 2015. Ecology 96:2289–2299. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/14-2006.1

Ecosystems containing multiple nonnative plant species are common, but mechanisms promoting their co-occurrence are understudied. Plant–soil interactions contribute to the dominance of singleton species in nonnative ranges because many nonnatives experience stronger positive feedbacks relative to co-occurring natives. Plant–soil interactions could impede other nonnatives if an individual nonnative benefits from its soil community to a greater extent than its neighboring nonnatives, as is seen with natives. However, plant–soil interactions could promote nonnative co-occurrence if a nonnative accumulates beneficial soil mutualists that also assist other nonnatives. Here, we use greenhouse and field experiments to ask whether plant–soil interactions (1) promote the codominance of two common nonnative shrubs (Ligustrum sinense and Lonicera maackii) and (2) facilitate the invasion of a less-common nonnative shrub (Rhamnus davurica) in deciduous forests of the southeastern United States. In the greenhouse, we found that two of the nonnatives, L. maackii and R. davurica, performed better in soils conditioned by nonnative shrubs compared to uninvaded forest soils, which suggests that positive feedbacks among co-occurring nonnative shrubs can promote continued invasion of a site. In both greenhouse and field experiments, we found consistent signals that the codominance of the nonnatives L. sinense and L. maackii may be at least partially explained by the increased growth of L. sinense in L. maackii soils. Overall, significant effects of plant–soil interactions on shrub performance indicate that plant–soil interactions can potentially structure the co-occurrence patterns of these nonnatives.