Shift in competitive ability mediated by soil biota in an invasive plant.
Understanding the shifts in competitive ability and its driving forces is key to predict the future of plant invasion. Changes in the competition environment and soil biota are two selective forces that impose remarkable influences on competitive ability. By far, evidence of the interactive effects of competition environment and soil biota on competitive ability of invasive species is rare. Here, we investigated their interactive effects using an invasive perennial vine, Mikania micrantha. The competitive performance of seven M. micrantha populations varying in their conspecific and heterospecific abundance were monitored in a greenhouse experiment, by manipulating soil biota (live and sterilized) and competition conditions (competition-free, intraspecific, and interspecific competition). Our results showed that with increasing conspecific abundance and decreasing heterospecific abundance, (1) M. micrantha increased intraspecific competition tolerance and intra- vs. interspecific competitive ability but decreased interspecific competition tolerance; (2) M. micrantha increased tolerance of the negative soil biota effect; and (3) interspecific competition tolerance of M. micrantha was increasingly suppressed by the presence of soil biota, but intraspecific competition tolerance was less affected. These results highlight the importance of the soil biota effect on the evolution of competitive ability during the invasion process. To better control M. micrantha invasion, our results imply that introduction of competition-tolerant native plants that align with conservation priorities may be effective where M. micrantha populations are long-established and inferior in inter- vs. intraspecific competitive ability, whereas eradication may be effective where populations are newly invaded and fast-growing.