Increasing flavonoid concentrations in root exudates enhance associations between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and an invasive plant.
Many invasive plants have enhanced mutualistic arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal associations, however, mechanisms underlying differences in AM fungal associations between introduced and native populations of invasive plants have not been explored. Here we test the hypothesis that variation in root exudate chemicals in invasive populations affects AM fungal colonization and then impacts plant performance. We examined flavonoids (quercetin and quercitrin) in root exudates of native and introduced populations of the invasive plant Triadica sebifera and tested their effects on AM fungi and plant performance. We found that plants from introduced populations had higher concentrations of quercetin in root exudates, greater AM fungal colonization and higher biomass. Applying root exudates more strongly increased AM fungal colonization of target plants and AM fungal spore germination when exudate donors were from introduced populations. The role of root exudate chemicals was further confirmed by decreased AM fungal colonization when activated charcoal was added into soil. Moreover, addition of quercetin into soil increased AM fungal colonization, indicating quercetin might be a key chemical signal stimulating AM fungal associations. Together these results suggest genetic differences in root exudate flavonoids play an important role in enhancing AM fungal associations and invasive plants' performance, thus considering root exudate chemicals is critical to unveiling mechanisms governing shifting plant-soil microbe interactions during plant invasions.