Reduced Soil Compaction Enhances Establishment of Non-Native Plant Species

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Plant Ecology



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Many studies have shown that soil disturbance facilitates establishment of invasive, non-native plant species, and a number of mechanisms have been isolated that contribute to the process. To our knowledge no studies have isolated the role of altered soil compaction, a likely correlate of many types of soil disturbance, in facilitating invasion. To address this, we measured the response of seeded non-native and native plant species to four levels of soil compaction in mesocosms placed in an abandoned agricultural field in the Methow Valley, Washington, USA. Soil compaction levels reflected the range of resistance to penetration (0.1-3.0 kg cm⁻⁲) measured on disturbed soils throughout the study system prior to the experiment. Percent cover of non-native species, namely Bromus tectorum and Centaurea diffusa, decreased by 34% from the least to the most compacted treatments, whereas percent cover of native species, mostly Pseudoroegneria spicata and Lupinus spp., did not respond to compaction treatments. Experimental results were supported by a survey of soil penetration resistance and percent cover by species in 18 abandoned agricultural fields. Percent cover of B. tectorum was negatively related to soil compaction levels, whereas none of the native species showed any response to soil compaction. These results highlight a potentially important, though overlooked, aspect of soil disturbance that may contribute to subsequent non-native plant establishment.