Ageratina adenophora invasions are associated with microbially mediated differences in biogeochemical cycles.
Invasive plant species may alter soil nutrient availability to facilitate their growth and competitiveness. However, the roles and functional mechanisms of plant-associated microbes that mediate these soil biogeochemical cycles remain elusive. Here, we studied how soil microorganisms and their functional processes differed between soils invaded by Ageratina adenophora and adjacent non-invaded soils in a region of China with heavy invasion. Our results indicated that soil nitrogen contents were over 4.32 mg/kg higher (p<0.05) in both rhizosphere soils and bulk soils dominated by A. adenophora as compared with those in soils dominated by non-invaded plants. Concurrently, soil microbial-mediated functional processes, i.e. nitrogen fixation rate, nitrification rate and ammonification rate, were also significantly (p<0.05) higher in either rhizosphere soils or bulk soils of invasive A. adenophora. Using a functional gene microarray, we found higher relative abundances of soil microbial genes involved in N cycling processes in A. adenophora soils, e.g. nifH, required for nitrogen fixation, which significantly correlated with ammonia contents (r=0.35 in bulk soils, r=0.37 in rhizosphere soils, p<0.05) and the nitrogen fixation rate (r=0.44, p<0.05). We also found that the relative abundances of labile carbon decomposition genes were higher in invasive A. adenophora soils, implying a potential higher availability of carbon. These results suggest that the soil surrounding the invasive plant A. adenophora is a self-reinforcing environment. The plant litter and rhizosphere environment of the invasive may influence soil microbial communities, promoting self-supporting soil processes. Alternatively, the regions invaded by A. adenophora may have already had properties that facilitated these beneficial microbial community traits, allowing easier invasion by the exotics. Both scenarios offer important insights for the mitigation of plant invasion and provide an ecosystem-level understanding of the invasive mechanisms utilized by alien plants.