Effects of mycorrhizae on growth and demography of tallgrass prairie forbs

Am J Bot. 2001 Aug;88(8):1452-7.


The effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis on ramet and genet densities, vegetative growth rates, and flowering of three forb species were studied in native tallgrass prairie in northeastern Kansas. Mycorrhizal activity was experimentally suppressed for six growing seasons on replicate plots in an annually burned and an infrequently burned watershed with the fungicide benomyl. Benomyl reduced mycorrhizal root colonization to an average of 4.2%, approximately a two-thirds reduction relative to controls (13.7% colonization). Mycorrhizae influenced the population structure of these forbs. Although mycorrhizal suppression had no long-term effect on genet densities and no effect on ramet survivorship throughout the growing season, the number of ramets per individual was significantly increased such that ramet densities of all three species were approximately doubled in response to long-term mycorrhizal suppression. Effects of mycorrhizae on ramet growth and reproduction varied among species. Ramet growth rates, biomass, and flowering of Salvia azurea were greater in plots with active mycorrhizal symbiosis, whereas mycorrhizae reduced ramet growth rates and biomass of Artemesia ludoviciana. Aster sericeus ramet growth rates and biomass were unaffected by the fungicide applications, but its flowering was reduced.The pattern of responses of these three species to mycorrhizae differed considerably between the two sites of contrasting fire regime, indicating that the interaction of fire-induced shifts in resource availability and mycorrhizal symbiosis together modulates plant responses and the intensity and patterns of interspecific competition between and among tallgrass prairie grass and forb species. Further, the results indicate that effects of mycorrhizae on community structure are a result of interspecific differences in the balance between direct positive effects of the symbiosis on host plant performance and indirect negative effects mediated through altered competitive interactions.