Due to climate warming, many plant species shift ranges towards higher latitudes. Plants can disperse faster than most soil biota, however, little is known about how range-expanding plants in the new range will establish interactions with the resident soil food web. In this paper we examine how the soil nematode community from the new range responds to range-expanding plant species compared to related natives. We focused on nematodes, because they are important components in various trophic levels of the soil food web, some feeding on plant roots, others on microbes or on invertebrates. We expected that range expanding plant species have fewer root-feeding nematodes, as predicted by enemy release hypothesis. We therefore expected that range expanders affect the taxonomic and functional composition of the nematode community, but that these effects would diminish with increasing trophic position of nematodes in the soil food web.
We exposed six range expanders (including three intercontinental exotics) and nine related native plant species to soil from the invaded range and show that range expanders on average had fewer root-feeding nematodes per unit root biomass than related natives. The range expanders showed resistance against rather than tolerance for root-feeding nematodes from the new range. On the other hand, the overall taxonomic and functional nematode community composition was influenced by plant species rather than by plant origin. The plant identity effects declined with trophic position of nematodes in the soil food web, as plant feeders were influenced more than other feeding guilds. We conclude that range-expanding plant species can have fewer root-feeding nematodes per unit root biomass than related natives, but that the taxonomic and functional nematode community composition is determined more by plant identity than by plant origin. Plant species identity effects decreased with trophic position of nematodes in the soil food web.