Interplay between Senecio jacobaea and plant, soil, and aboveground insect community composition

T.M. Bezemer, J.A. Harvey, G.A. Kowalchuk, H. Korpershoek, W.H. van der Putten

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55 Citations (Scopus)


To elucidate the factors that affect the performance of plants in their natural environment, it is essential to study interactions with other neighboring plants, as well as with above- and belowground higher trophic organisms. We used a long-term field experiment to study how local plant community diversity influenced colonization by the biennial composite Senecio jacobaea in its native range in The Netherlands in Europe. We tested the effect of sowing later-succession plant species (0, 4, or 15 species) on plant succession and S. jacobaea performance. Over a period of eight years, the percent cover of S. jacobaea was relatively low in communities sown with 15 or 4 later-succession plant species compared to plots that were not sown, but that were colonized naturally. However, after four years of high abundance, the density of S. jacobaea in unsown plots started to decline, and the size of the individual plants was smaller than in the plots sown with 15 or 4 plant species. In the unsown plots, densities of aboveground leaf-mining, flower-feeding, and stem-boring insects on S. jacobaea plants were lower than on plants in sown plots, and there was a strong positive relationship between plant size and levels of herbivory. In a greenhouse experiment, we grew S. jacobaea in sterilized soil inoculated with soil from the different sowing treatments of the field experiment. Biomass production was lower when S. jacobaea test plants were grown in soil from the unsown plots than in soil from the sown plots (4 or 15 species). Molecular analysis of the fungal and bacterial communities revealed that the composition of fungal communities in unsown plots differed significantly from those in sown plots, suggesting that soil fungi could have been involved in the relative growth reduction of S. jacobaea in the greenhouse bioassay. Our results show that, in its native habitat, the abundance of S. jacobaea depends on the initial composition of the plant community and that, on a scale of almost a decade, its interactions with plant and soil communities and aboveground invertebrates may influence the dynamics of this colonizing species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2002-2013
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • population-dynamics
  • biotic resistance
  • pyrrolizidine alkaloids
  • ammophila-arenaria
  • species richness
  • cinnabar moth
  • diversity
  • invasion
  • grassland
  • biodiversity

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