Tree seedling performance and below-ground properties in stands of invasive and native tree species.
The establishment and subsequent impacts of invasive plant species often involve interactions or feedbacks with the below-ground subsystem. We compared the performance of planted tree seedlings and soil communities in three ectomycorrhizal tree species at Craigieburn, Canterbury, New Zealand - two invasive species (Pseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas-fir; Pinus contorta, lodgepole pine) and one native (Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides, mountain beech) - in monodominant stands. We studied mechanisms likely to affect growth and survival, i.e. nutrient competition, facilitation of carbon and nutrient transfer through mycorrhizal networks, and modification of light and soil conditions by canopy trees. Seedlings were planted in plastic tubes filled with local soil, and placed in monospecific stands. Effects of root competition from trees and mycorrhizal connections on seedling performance were tested by root trenching and use of tubes with or without a fine mesh (20 µm), allowing mycorrhizal hyphae (but not roots) to pass through. Survival and growth were highest in stands of Nothofagus and lowest under Pseudotsuga. Surprisingly, root trenching and mesh treatments had no effect on seedling performance, indicating canopy tree species affected seedling performance through reduced light availability and altered soil conditions rather than below-ground suppression from root competition or mycorrhizal facilitation. Seedlings in Pseudotsuga stands had lower mycorrhizal colonisation, likely as a result of the lower light levels. Soil organic matter levels, microbial biomass, and abundance and diversity of microbe-consuming nematodes were all highest under Nothofagus, and nematode community assemblages differed strongly between native and non-native stand types. The negative effects of non-native trees on nematodes relative to Nothofagus are likely due to the lower availability of soil organic matter and microbial biomass in these stands, and therefore lower availability of resources for nematodes. This study shows that established stands of non-native invasive tree species may adversely affect tree seedlings and soil communities through modifications of the microenvironment both above and below ground. As such, invasion and domination of new landscapes by these species is likely to result in fundamental shifts in community- and ecosystem-level properties relative to those under native forest cover.