HRS had higher litter and soil moisture than WRF at the beginning of 2006 (litter F1,46 = 76·96, P < 0·01; soil water F1,46 = 84·86, P < 0·01), but identity treatments had no significant effect on abiotic variables (litter F5,46 = 0·69, P = 0·63; soil water F5,46 = 1·17, P = 0·34; soil temperature F5,23 = 0·79, P = 0·57). Timing treatments altered all abiotic variables at the beginning of 2006 (Fig. 4). Litter was much higher in spring than summer timing treatments at HRS and WRF (timing contrast F1,138 = 309·8, P < 0·01, site x timing and priority interaction F1,138 = 3·42, P = 0·02). Litter was not significantly affected by priority effects (F1,138 = 0·24, P = 0·62) on average, but litter was increased slightly by priority effects in spring timing treatments (timing x priority interaction F = 6·7, P = 0·01). Soil water content was 29% higher in spring than summer timing treatments overall, (timing contrast F1,138 = 94·64, P < 0·01), and this was largely driven by HRS, which had 49% higher soil moisture in spring than summer (site x timing and priority interaction F1,138 = 16·31, P < 0·01). Soil moisture was not affected by priority effects or interactions (priority F1,138 = 1·49, P = 0·22, timing x priority F1,138 = 0·05, P = 0·83). Average soil temperature at HRS was 11% lower in spring than summer timing treatments (F1,69 = 112·91, P < 0·01) and was not affected by other treatments (priority F1,69 = 0·40, P = 0·53, timing x priority F1,69 = 1·40, P = 0·24).