The structure of legume-rhizobium interaction networks and their response to tree invasions

Johannes J. Le Roux*, Natasha R. Mavengere, Allan G. Ellis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Establishing mutualistic interactions in novel environments is important for the successful establishment of some non-native plant species. These associations may, in turn, impact native species interaction networks as non-natives become dominant in their new environments. Using phylogenetic and ecological interaction network approaches we provide the first report of the structure of belowground legume-rhizobium interaction networks and how they change along a gradient of invasion (uninvaded, semi invaded and heavily invaded sites) by Australian Acacia species in South Africa's Cape Floristic Region. We found that native and invasive legumes interact with distinct rhizobial lineages, most likely due to phylogenetic uniqueness of native and invasive host plants. Moreover, legume-rhizobium interaction networks are not nested, but significantly modular with high levels of specialization possibly as a result of legume-rhizobium co-evolution. Although network topology remained constant across the invasion gradient, composition of bacterial communities associated with native legumes changed dramatically as acacias increasingly dominated the landscape. In stark contrast to aboveground interaction networks (e.g. pollination and seed dispersal) we show that invasive legumes do not infiltrate existing native legume-rhizobium networks but rather form novel modules. This absence of mutualist overlap between native and invasive legumes suggests the importance of co-invading rhizobium-acacia species complexes for Acacia invasion success, and argues against a ubiquitous role for the formation and evolutionary refinement of novel interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberplw038
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Biological invasions
  • Co-introduction
  • Cosmopolitan rhizobia
  • Legume-rhizobium interaction webs
  • Network specialization


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