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Identification of mechanisms that allow some species to outcompete others is a fundamental goal in ecology and invasive species management. One useful approach is to examine congeners varying in invasiveness in a comparative framework across native and invaded ranges. Acacia species have been widely introduced outside their native range of Australia, and a subset of these species have become invasive in multiple parts of the world. Within specific regions, the invasive status of these species varies. Our study examined whether a key mechanism in the life history of Acacia species, the legume-rhizobia symbiosis, influences acacia invasiveness on a regional scale. To assess the extent to which species varying in invasiveness correspondingly differ with regard to the diversity of rhizobia they associate with, we grew seven Acacia species ranging in invasiveness in California in multiple soils from both their native (Australia) and introduced (California) ranges. In particular, the aim was to determine whether more invasive species formed symbioses with a wider diversity of rhizobial strains (i.e. are more promiscuous hosts). We measured and compared plant performance, including aboveground biomass, survival, and nodulation response, as well as rhizobial community composition and richness. Host promiscuity did not differ among invasiveness categories. Acacia species that varied in invasiveness differed in aboveground biomass for only one soil and did not differ in survival or nodulation within individual soils. In addition, acacias did not differ in rhizobial richness among invasiveness categories. However, nodulation differed between regions and was generally higher in the native than introduced range. Our results suggest that all Acacia species introduced to California are promiscuous hosts and that host promiscuity per se does not explain the observed differences in invasiveness within this region. Our study also highlights the utility of assessing potential mechanisms of invasion in species’ native and introduced ranges.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.