Co-introduction vs ecological fitting as pathways to the establishment of effective mutualisms during biological invasions

29 September 2017

Interactions between non-native plants and their mutualists are often disrupted upon introduction to new environments. Using legume–rhizobium mutualistic interactions as an example, we discuss two pathways that can influence symbiotic associations in such situations: co-introduction of coevolved rhizobia; and utilization of, and adaptation to, resident rhizobia, hereafter referred to as ‘ecological fitting’. Co-introduction and ecological fitting have distinct implications for successful legume invasions and their impacts. Under ecological fitting, initial impacts may be less severe and will accrue over longer periods as novel symbiotic associations and/or adaptations may require fine-tuning over time. Co-introduction will have more profound impacts that will accrue more rapidly as a result of positive feedbacks between densities of non-native rhizobia and their coevolved host plants, in turn enhancing competition between native and non-native rhizobia. Co-introduction can further impact invasion outcomes by the exchange of genetic material between native and non-native rhizobia, potentially resulting in decreased fitness of native legumes. A better understanding of the roles of these two pathways in the invasion dynamics of non-native legumes is much needed, and we highlight some of the exciting research avenues it presents.