Zhang, P., Neher, D.A., Li, B. et al. Ecosystems (2017). doi:10.1007/s10021-017-0162-8
Invasive plants affect soil food webs through various resource inputs including shoot litter, root litter and living root input. The net impact of invasive plants on soil biota has been recognized; however, the relative contributions of different resource input pathways have not been quantified. Through a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial field experiment, a pair of invasive and native plant species (Spartina alterniflora vs. Phragmites australis) was compared to determine the relative impacts of their living roots or shoots and root litter on soil microbial and nematode communities. Living root identity affected bacteria-to-fungi PLFA ratios, abundance of total nematodes, plant-feeding nematodes and omnivorous nematodes. Specifically, the plant-feeding nematodes were 627% less abundant when living roots of invasive S. alterniflora were present than those of native P. australis. Likewise, shoot and root biomass (within soil at 0–10 cm depth) of S. alterniflora was, respectively, 300 and 100% greater than those of P. australis. These findings support the enemy release hypothesis of plant invasion. Root litter identity affected other components of soil microbiota (that is, bacterial-feeding nematodes), which were 34% more abundant in the presence of root litter of P. australis than S. alterniflora. Overall, more variation associated with nematode community structure and function was explained by differences in living roots than root or shoot litter for this pair of plant species sharing a common habitat but contrasting invasion degrees. We conclude that belowground resource input is an important mechanism used by invasive plants to affect ecosystem structure and function.