Biotic interactions drive ecosystem responses to exotic plant invaders.
Ecosystem process rates typically increase after plant invasion, but the extent to which this is driven by (i) changes in productivity, (ii) exotic species' traits, or (iii) novel (non-coevolved) biotic interactions has never been quantified. We created communities varying in exotic plant dominance, plant traits, soil biota, and invertebrate herbivores and measured indicators of carbon cycling. Interactions with soil biota and herbivores were the strongest drivers of exotic plant effects, particularly on measures of soil carbon turnover. Moreover, plant traits related to growth and nutrient acquisition explained differences in the ways that exotic plants interacted with novel biota compared with natives. We conclude that novel biological interactions with exotic species are a more important driver of ecosystem transformation than was previously recognized.