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Soil-mediated impacts of an invasive thistle inhibit the recruitment of certain native plants

  • Jason D. VerbeekEmail author
  • Peter M. Kotanen
Plant-microbe-animal interactions – original research


Invasive plants may outcompete and replace native plant species through a variety of mechanisms. Recent evidence indicates that soil microbial pathways such as pathogen accumulation may have a considerable role in facilitating competition between native and invasive plants. To assess microbe-mediated pathways of invasion, we tested the impacts of invaded and non-invaded field soils on plant establishment using naturally occurring populations of the common Eurasian invader Cirsium arvense (Canada thistle) in Southern Ontario, Canada. Linked field and greenhouse experiments were used to quantify differences in the germinability and early growth rates of native plant species, depending on exposure to the microbial community in invaded or non-invaded soils. The invaded microbial community significantly reduced early growth rates for two of the seven native species surveyed, and decreased seed germination for another. In contrast, the germination and growth of invasive Cirsium were not affected by its own soil microbial community. These results demonstrate that the invasion of C. arvense can reduce the performance of some native plant species through changes to the soil microbial community. Different effects on different species suggest that this invader may also change the relative importance of certain natives in the invaded community. If these effects influence plant abundance in the field, microbially mediated interactions in the soil may aid the invasion of C. arvense and facilitate the disruption of invaded communities.


Biological invasions Recruitment Seeds Seedlings Soil microbes 



This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant (PMK). We thank K. Nunes for her advice and help in the lab; A. Longley for her help in the field and lab; S. Shukla and R. Matar for their work in the greenhouse and with weighing; S. Schneider and all the KSR staff for ensuring that field experiments ran smoothly; two anonymous reviewers who provided comments to improve the manuscript. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Author contribution statement

PMK conceived the initial idea, and JDV and PMK designed the experiments. JDV conducted the experiments and analysis of data, and PMK provided guidance. JDV wrote the manuscript, and PMK provided editorial advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Data availability

Upon acceptance of the manuscript, data will be archived in the Dryad Digital Repository.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4435_MOESM1_ESM.docx (11.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 11542 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Toronto MississaugaMississaugaCanada

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