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Pathogens and Mutualists as Joint Drivers of Host Species Coexistence and Turnover: Implications for Plant Competition and Succession

The potential for either pathogens or mutualists to alter the outcome of interactions between host species has been clearly demonstrated experimentally, but our understanding of their joint influence remains limited. Individually, pathogens and mutualists can each stabilize (via negative feedback) or destabilize (via positive feedback) host-host interactions. When pathogens and mutualists are both present, the potential for simultaneous positive and negative feedbacks can generate a wide range of possible effects on host species coexistence and turnover. Extending existing theoretical frameworks, we explore the range of dynamics generated by simultaneous interactions with pathogens and mutualists and identify the conditions for pathogen or mutualist mediation of host coexistence. We then explore the potential role of microbial mutualists and pathogens in plant species turnover during succession. We show how a combination of positive and negative plant-microbe feedbacks can generate a coexistence state that is part of a set of alternative stable states. This result implies that the outcomes of coexistence from classical plant-soil feedback experiments may be susceptible to disturbances and that empirical investigations of microbially mediated coexistence would benefit from consideration of interactive effects of feedbacks generated from different distinct components of the plant microbiome.