Roles of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi and Soil Abiotic Conditions in the Establishment of a Dry Grassland Community.PLoS One. 2016; 11(7):e0158925.Plos
The importance of soil biota in the composition of mature plant communities is commonly acknowledged. In contrast, the role of soil biota in the early establishment of new plant communities and their relative importance for soil abiotic conditions are still poorly understood.
AIMS AND METHODS
The aim of this study was to understand the effects of soil origin and soil fungal communities on the composition of a newly established dry grassland plant community. We used soil from two different origins (dry grassland and abandoned field) with different pH and nutrient and mineral content. Grassland microcosms were established by sowing seeds of 54 species of dry grassland plants into the studied soils. To suppress soil fungi, half of the pots were regularly treated with fungicide. In this way, we studied the independent and combined effects of soil origin and soil community on the establishment of dry grassland communities.
The effect of suppressing the soil fungal community on the richness and composition of the plant communities was much stronger than the effect of soil origin. Contrary to our expectations, the effects of these two factors were largely additive, indicating the same degree of importance of soil fungal communities in the establishment of species-rich plant communities in the soils from both origins. The negative effect of suppressing soil fungi on species richness, however, occurred later in the soil from the abandoned field than in the soil from the grassland. This result likely occurred because the negative effects of the suppression of fungi in the field soil were caused mainly by changes in plant community composition and increased competition. In contrast, in the grassland soil, the absence of soil fungi was limiting for plants already at the early stages of their establishment, i.e., in the phases of germination and early recruitment. While fungicide affects not only arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi but also other biota, our data indicate that changes in the AMF communities are the most likely drivers of the observed changes. The effects of other soil biota, however, cannot be fully excluded.
These results suggest that the availability of soil fungi may not be the most important limiting factor for the establishment of grassland species in abandoned fields if we manage to reduce the intensity of competition at these sites e.g., by mowing or grazing.