Roots of different plant species are colonized by bacterial communities, that are distinct even when hosts share the same habitat. It remains unclear to what extent the host actively selects these communities and whether commensals are adapted to a specific plant species. To address this question, we assembled a sequence-indexed bacterial culture collection from roots and nodules of Lotus japonicus that contains representatives of most species previously identified using metagenomics. We analysed taxonomically paired synthetic communities from L. japonicus and Arabidopsis thaliana in a multi-species gnotobiotic system and detected signatures of host preference among commensal bacteria in a community context, but not in mono-associations. Sequential inoculation experiments revealed priority effects during root microbiota assembly, where established communities are resilient to invasion by latecomers, and that host preference of commensal bacteria confers a competitive advantage in their cognate host. Our findings show that host preference in commensal bacteria from diverse taxonomic groups is associated with their invasiveness into standing root-associated communities.