Soil origin corresponds with variation in growth of an invasive Centaurea, but not of non-invasive congeners.
Why only a small proportion of exotic species become invasive is an unresolved question. Escape from the negative effects of soil biota in the native range can be important for the success of many invasives, but comparative effects of soil biota on less successful exotic species are poorly understood. Studies of other mechanisms suggest that such comparisons might be fruitful. Seeds of three closely related Centaurea species with overlapping distributions in both their native range of Spain and their nonnative range of California were grown to maturity in pots to obtain an F1 generation of full sibling seeds with reduced maternal effects. Full sibling F1 seeds from both ranges were subsequently grown in pots with inoculations of soil from either the native or nonnative ranges in a fully orthogonal factorial design. We then compared plant biomass among species, regions, and soil sources. Our results indicate that escape from soil pathogens may unleash the highly invasive Centaurea solstitialis, which was suppressed by native Spanish soils but not by soils from California. In contrast, the two non-invasive Centaurea species grew the same on all soils. These results add unprecedented phylogenetically controlled insight into why some species invade and others do not.