Do mycorrhizal network benefits to survival and growth of interior Douglas-fir seedlings increase with soil moisture stress?

Ecol Evol. 2011 Nov;1(3):306-16. doi: 10.1002/ece3.24.


Facilitation of tree establishment by ectomycorrhizal (EM) networks (MNs) may become increasingly important as drought stress increases with climate change in some forested regions of North America. The objective of this study was to determine (1) whether temperature, CO(2) concentration ([CO(2)]), soil moisture, and MNs interact to affect plant establishment success, such that MNs facilitate establishment when plants are the most water stressed, and (2) whether transfer of C and water between plants through MNs plays a role in this. We established interior Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesiivar.glauca) seedlings in root boxes with and without the potential to form MNs with nearby conspecific seedlings that had consistent access to water via their taproots. We varied temperature, [CO(2)], and soil moisture in growth chambers. Douglas-fir seedling survival increased when the potential existed to form an MN. Growth increased with MN potential under the driest soil conditions, but decreased with temperature at 800 ppm [CO(2)]. Transfer of (13)C to receiver seedlings was unaffected by potential to form an MN with donor seedlings, but deuterated water (D(2)O) transfer increased with MN potential under ambient [CO(2)]. Chlorophyll fluorescence was reduced when seedlings had the potential to form an MN under high [CO(2)] and cool temperatures. We conclude that Douglas-fir seedling establishment in laboratory conditions is facilitated by MN potential where Douglas-fir seedlings have consistent access to water. Moreover, this facilitation appears to increase as water stress potential increases and water transfer via networks may play a role in this. These results suggest that conservation of MN potential may be important to forest regeneration where drought stress increases with climate change.

Keywords: CO2; Pseudotsuga menziesiivar.glauca(interior Douglas-fir); climate change; competition; drought; ecophysiology; ectomycorrhizal network; facilitation; plant water relations; stress-gradient hypothesis.