Effects of mycorrhizae on plant growth and dynamics in experimental tall grass prairie microcosms

Am J Bot. 1997 Apr;84(4):478.


Experimental microcosms (40 X 52 X 32 cm) containing an assemblage of eight tallgrass prairie grass and forb species in native prairie soil were maintained under mycorrhizal (untreated control) or mycorrhizal-suppressed (fungicide-treated) conditions to examine plant growth, demographic, and community responses to mycorrhizal symbiosis. The fungicide benomyl successfully reduced mycorrhizal root colonization in the fungicide-treated microcosms to only 6.4% (an 83% reduction relative to mycorrhizal controls). Suppression of mycorrhizas resulted in a 31% reduction in total net aboveground plant production and changes in the relative production of C4 and C3 plants. The C4 tallgrasses Andropogon gerardi and Sorghastrum nutans produced less plant biomass in the fungicide-treated microcosms, and had a greater ratio of reproductive to vegetative biomass. Cool-season C3 grasses, Koeleria pyramidata and Poa pratensis accumulated more biomass and were a significantly greater proportion of total community biomass in mycorrhizal-suppressed microcosms. Forbs showed variable responses to mycorrhizal suppression. The two legumes Amorpha canescens and Dalea purpurea had significantly lower survivorship in the fungicide-treated microcosms, relative to the controls. The results confirm the high mycorrhizal dependency and growth responsiveness of dominant prairie grasses, and indicate that differential growth and demographic responses to mycorrhizal colonization among species may significantly affect plant productivity and species relative abundances in tallgrass prairie.