Plant-mycorrhizal fungi feedbacks: potential accomplices of Avena barbata's high invasiveness.
Alteration of the soil microbial communities can have important effects on plant invasion. The interdependence between plants and soil microbes could generate complex dynamics in which the composition of plant communities is regulated by the feedbacks of microbial communities on plant growth. In a greenhouse experiment we tested whether the soil microbes in roots of an invasive annual (Avena barbata, wild oat) and a native grass (Rytidosperma caespitosum, wallaby grass) can affect invasive and/or native plant performance. Individuals of each plant species were planted in sterilized soil to which pieces of roots of the same or the other species were added as a layer below the top soil. When plants were harvested after 10 weeks, the addition of roots of any species reduced the total biomass of wild oat. On the other hand, addition of roots of wild oat caused a much stronger reduction of the growth of wallaby grass, while roots of wallaby grass tended to increase its plant growth and shifted biomass allocation patterns. On balance, given the strength of the negative effects, our results indicated that invasion-induced changes in the soil microbial community could contribute to a displacement of the native grass. Thus, these changes might induce a positive feedback mechanism, contributing to the increased dominance of wild oat over wallaby grass in South Australian grasslands.