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SPECIALS Report Summary

Project ID: 323020
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Mid-Term Report Summary - SPECIALS (Species range shifts, aboveground-belowground community reassembly and consequences for ecosystem functioning)

Project No.: 323020 Specials

A large-scale sampling campaign has been completed in order to provide information on belowground and aboveground phytobiome composition of range-expanding plant species and their native relatives that have a natural occurrence along the entire latitudinal gradient. For that, we have established collaborations with colleagues in Greece, Montenegro, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany. The analyses of the samples (partly based on high-throughput molecular analyses and partly based on morphological identifications) is now in progress and a network approach has been tested out successfully in order to further analyze the data.

Separately, in a greenhouse mesocosm experiment, we examined the total feedback of soil communities to plant communities consisting of range expanders with and without native congeners. We also carried out wet-sieving methods to further disentangle the effect of mutualistic and pathogenic soil organisms, and exposed the plant-soil systems to experimental drought, in order to mimic extreme events as may occur under climate warming. The results of this study suggest that although drought reduced plant growth significantly, it does not have significant effect on plant-microbial interactions in original or new ranges. Moreover, we found that the presence of soil communities increased the growth of range expanding plant species in both ranges, independently of the size of the fraction although wet-sieving method reduced the abundance of mutualistic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in soil in small fraction. These results suggest that range expanding plant species can, at least in some level, successfully adjust to possible changes in changes in microbial communities during range expansion.

We examined the interactions between native plant species, their congeneric and unrelated range expanders with and without exposure to soil biota and generalist aboveground invertebrate herbivores. Effects were strongest of unrelated range expanders, which reduced the biomass production of native plant species. Both unrelated and congeneric range expanding plant species suppressed the growth of aboveground generalist herbivorous insects. We conclude that climate warming-induced range-expanding plant species have more invasive potential when they do not encounter congeneric natives in the new range.

In a different greenhouse experiment, we tested plant-root-feeding nematode interactions, in the presence or absence of native microbial communities, in the rhizospheres of range-expanding plant species compared to the rhizospheres of related native species. We found that range-expanding species can both be more strongly or more weakly defended against generalist root-feeding nematodes Meloidogyne hapla and Helicotylenchus pseudorobustus, leading to respectively lower or higher root-feeding nematode numbers accumulating in the rhizospheres of the range-expanders compared to the rhizospheres of their native congeners. Therefore, our results turn out to be context-specific.

Additionally, we have contributed to the development of a framework for a Global Soil Biodiversity Assessment, which will also be very helpful in order to calibrate our results from the European Latitudinal Gradient study to a wider dataset. This need also appeared during our contribution to the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas.

We have established many collaborative links with colleagues along the latitudinal gradient (Greece, Montenegro, Slovenia, Austria, Germany). We also linked our project to researchers with personal grants, from Estonia, UK, and Brazil, and researchers from the University of Padova, and ETH Zurich. A major outreach event was when King Willem Alexander from the Netherlands visited our experiment and experienced novel ecosystems by planting range-expanding species.

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