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Keywords:

  • Biological invasions;
  • invasive species;
  • microbial ecology;
  • mutualism;
  • nitrogen fixation symbiosis;
  • Rhizobiaceae;
  • ribosomal RNA

ABSTRACT

Mutualisms may play an important role in the establishment and invasion success of introduced species, but their influence is little studied. To test whether a lack of root nodule symbionts may limit the performance of invasive legumes, seedlings of Cytisus scoparius were introduced to an old-field habitat and then either inoculated with Bradyrhizobium strains from existing C. scoparius populations, or left uninoculated. In two separate years, inoculation more than doubled average plant biomass. For uninoculated transplants, nodule formation was positively correlated with proximity to plants of the native legume Desmodium canadense, but not related to distance from a second legume species, Apios americana. Polymerase chain reaction assays and DNA sequencing confirmed that bacteria isolated from uninoculated C. scoparius plants were indistinguishable from Bradyrhizobium strains in root nodules of D. canadense. By contrast, bacterial strains associated with A. americana were never found in C. scoparius nodules. Transplants in seven other habitats across a 160 km region also showed a highly significant, fivefold biomass increase in response to inoculation. Thus, colonizing legumes can suffer from a scarcity of nodule symbionts. However, certain indigenous legumes may create favourable microhabitats for invasion, by increasing symbiont availability in their vicinity.