Plant population and soil origin effects on rhizosphere nematode community composition of a range-expanding plant species and a native congener.
Climate change causes species range expansions to higher latitudes and altitudes. It is expected that, due to differences in dispersal abilities between plants and soil biota, range-expanding plant species will become associated with a partly new belowground community in their expanded range. Theory on biological invasions predicts that outside their native range, range-expanding plant species may be released from specialist natural enemies, leading to the evolution of enhanced defence against generalist enemies. Here we tested the hypothesis that expanded range populations of the range-expanding plant species Centaurea stoebe accumulate fewer root-feeding nematodes than populations from the original range. Moreover, we examined whether Centaurea stoebe accumulates fewer root-feeding nematodes in expanded range soil than in original range soil. We grew plants from three expanded range and three original range populations of C. stoebe in soil from the original and from the new range. We compared nematode communities of C. stoebe with those of C. jacea, a congeneric species native to both ranges. Our results show that expanded range populations of C. stoebe did not accumulate fewer root-feeding nematodes than populations from the original range, but that C. stoebe, unlike C. jacea, accumulated fewest root-feeding nematodes in expanded range soil. Moreover, when we examined other nematode feeding groups, we found intra-specific plant population effects on all these groups. We conclude that range-expanding plant populations from the expanded range were not better defended against root-feeding nematodes than populations from the original range, but that C. stoebe might experience partial belowground enemy release.