1. Legacy effects of plant influences on abiotic and biotic soil properties can result in priority effects that influence the structure and composition of plant communities. To better understand the role of these plant–soil interactions, here we expand the concept of plant–soil feedbacks from a within-species approach (intraspecific plant–soil feedback) to a between-species approach (interspecific plant–soil interactions).
2. In a greenhouse experiment, we tested how the early successional Jacobaea vulgaris affects its own performance and the performance of 30 co-occurring plant species via changes in abiotic and biotic soil conditions. In addition, we examined the reciprocal effect of the co-occurring species on J. vulgaris.
3. Our study had three important results. First, J. vulgaris exhibits strong negative plant–soil feedback. Secondly, there were large differences among the co-occurring species in interspecific plant–soil effects on J. vulgaris growth. Approximately, half the species reduced J. vulgaris performance, whereas the other half had no effect. Thirdly, soil conditioned by J. vulgaris had a positive or neutral effect on the growth of the co-occurring species.
4. To test the soil effects of entire plant communities, in 10 old-fields that differed in time since abandonment we recorded the identity of all plants surrounding J. vulgaris individuals. We calculated the weighted soil effect of this community on J. vulgaris and the reciprocal effect of J. vulgaris on the community. There was a positive linear relationship between time since abandonment and the weighted feedback effect of J. vulgaris on the plant community.
5. We suggest three mechanisms how the legacy of plant–soil interactions may enhance the rate of succession through priority effects: early successional plant species exert negative plant–soil feedback; co-occurring plant species cause negative interspecific plant–soil effects to the early successional species; and the early successional species have overall positive interspecific plant–soil effects on the co-occurring plant species.
6.Synthesis. The performance of an early successional species can be reduced directly by the legacy effects of intraspecific plant–soil feedback, as well as indirectly by the legacy effects of both intra- and interspecific plant–soil interactions. These intra- and interspecific plant–soil interactions can prioritize transitions of plant species in plant communities.