Many plant species are expected to shift their distributional ranges in response to global warming. As they arrive at new sites, migrant plant species may be released from their natural soil pathogens and/or deprived of key symbiotic organisms. Under such scenarios plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) will likely have an impact on plant species’ ability to establish in new areas. In a series of greenhouse and field studies we evaluated the role that PSF may play on the migratory potential of dominant temperate tree species at the northern limit of their distributional range in the Great Lakes region of North America. The combination of experiments provided us with a comprehensive understanding of the role of PSF in seedling establishment in new areas. In the field, we found that survival for most migrant species was similar to those of the local community, ensuring that these species could establish in areas beyond their current range. In the greenhouse, we found that the majority of species experienced strong negative conspecific feedbacks mediated by soil biota, but these responses occurred for most species only in low light conditions. When integrating the direct, indirect, and interactive effects of resource availability and mycorrhizal fungal colonization on tree recruitment dynamics we found that species responded in a nonlinear fashion to increasing resource levels, and we also identified thresholds, i.e., shifts in the direction of the response, along the resource gradient. Lastly, our combined results indicate that migrant tree species can colonize and may even have enhanced short-term recruitment beyond their ranges due to a lack of conspecific adults (and the resulting negative PSF from these adults).
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