How does familiarity in rhizobial interactions impact the performance of invasive and native legumes?
Mutualisms can be disrupted when non-native plants are introduced into novel environments, potentially impacting their establishment success. Introduced species can reassemble mutualisms by forming novel associations with resident biota or by maintaining familiar associations when they are co-introduced with their mutualists. Invasive Australian Acacia species in South Africa have formed nitrogen-fixing rhizobium mutualisms using both pathways. Here we examined the contributions of novel vs familiar rhizobial associations to the performance of Acacia saligna across different soils within South Africa's Core Cape Subregion (CCR), and the concomitant impacts of exotic rhizobia on the endemic legume, Psoralea pinnata. We grew each legume with and without Australian Bradyrhizobium strains across various CCR soil types in a glasshouse. We identified root nodule rhizobium communities associating with seedlings grown in each treatment combination using next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques. Our results show that different CCR soils affected growth performances of seedlings for both species while the addition of Australian bradyrhizobia affected growth performances of A. saligna, but not P. pinnata. NGS data revealed that each legume associated mostly with their familiar rhizobial partners, regardless of soil conditions or inoculum treatment. Acacia saligna predominantly associated with Australian bradyrhizobia, even when grown in soils without inoculum, while P. pinnata largely associated with native South African Mesorhizobium strains. Our study suggests that exotic Australian bradyrhizobia are already present and widespread in pristine CCR soils, and that mutualist limitation is not an impediment to further acacia invasion in the region. The ability of P. pinnata to sanction Australian Bradyrhizobium strains suggests that this species may be a good candidate for restoration efforts following the removal of acacias in CCR habitat.