1. The ability of exotic plant species to establish and expand in new areas may be enhanced by a relatively high ability to acquire soil nutrients. To test this hypothesis, we predicted that the capacity for nutrient acquisition would be higher in seedlings of exotic species than in seedlings of native congeners. 2. We selected the five exotic species that had recently increased in abundance in a riverine habitat in the Netherlands and that had a native congener that was common in the same habitat. We grew seedlings of each of these ten species singly in pots of soil from this habitat in a glasshouse. After two months, we measured the final dry mass and N and P content of each plant and components of microbial biomass and nutrient mineralization in the soil. We also measured these soil characteristics in pots that had been left unplanted. 3. Exotic and native congeners did not differ consistently in the uptake of N or P or in effects on components of soil mineralization. Within a genus, values of these measurements were sometimes higher, sometimes lower and sometimes similar to the exotic when compared with the native species. 4. Depending upon the statistical analysis used, biomarker-based biomass of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi was generally higher in soil planted with exotic than with native species. Most measures of microbial biomass and soil mineralization were higher in pots that had been planted with plants than in pots with no plant. 5. Synthesis. Our results do not suggest that invasive, exotic plant species generally possess greater capacity for nutrient acquisition during the early establishment than native species do.