The role of plant-soil feedbacks in driving native-species recovery

Stephanie G. Yelenik, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The impacts of exotic plants on soil nutrient cycling are often hypothesized to reinforce their dominance, but this mechanism is rarely tested, especially in relation to other ecological factors. In this manuscript we evaluate the influence of biogeochemically mediated plant-soil feedbacks on native shrub recovery in an invaded island ecosystem. The introduction of exotic grasses and grazing to Santa Cruz Island, California, USA, converted native shrublands (dominated by Artemisia californica and Eriogonum arborescens) into exotic-dominated grasslands (dominated by Avena barbata) over a century ago, altering nutrient-cycling regimes. To test the hypothesis that exotic grass impacts on soils alter reestablishment of native plants, we implemented a field-based soil transplant experiment in three years that varied widely in rainfall. Our results showed that growth of Avena and Artemisia seedlings was greater on soils influenced by their heterospecific competitor. Theory suggests that the resulting plant-soil feedback should facilitate the recovery of Artemisia in grasslands, although four years of monitoring showed no such recovery, despite ample seed rain. By contrast, we found that species effects on soils lead to weak to negligible feedbacks for Eriogonum arborescens, yet this shrub readily colonized the grasslands. Thus, plant-soil feedbacks quantified under natural climate and competitive conditions did not match nativeplant recovery patterns. We also found that feedbacks changed with climate and competition regimes, and that these latter factors generally had stronger effects on seedling growth than species effects on soils. We conclude that even when plant-soil feedbacks influence the balance between native and exotic species, their influence may be small relative to other ecological processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-74
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • California grasslands
  • Climate effects
  • Coastal Sage Scrub
  • Competition
  • Exotic plants
  • Plant-soil feedbacks
  • Restoration
  • Soil biogeochemistry


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