Evidence for Elton's diversity-invasibility hypothesis from belowground.
Sixty year ago, Charles Elton posed that species-rich communities should be more resistant to biological invasion. Still, little is known about which processes could drive the diversity-invasibility relationship. Here we examined whether soil-microbe-mediated apparent competition on alien invaders is more negative when the soil originates from multiple native species. We trained soils with five individually grown native species and used amplicon sequencing to analyze the resulting bacterial and fungal soil communities. We mixed the soils to create trained soils from one, two or four native species. We then grew four alien species separately on these differently trained soils. In the soil-conditioning phase, the five native species built species-specific bacterial and fungal communities in their rhizospheres. In the test phase, it did not matter for biomass of alien plants whether the soil had been trained by one or two native species. However, the alien species achieved 11.7% (95% CI: 3.7-20.1%) less aboveground biomass when grown on soils trained by four native species than on soils trained by two native species. Our results revealed soil-microbes-mediated apparent competition as a mechanism underlying the negative relationship between diversity and invasibility.